The USDA has awarded new grants to universities and organizations in Iowa and 30 other states that are working to develop new conservation methods.

“Farmers want to know how to deal with the variations of weather that they’re beginning to see — the more intense storms, the longer droughts, the occasional flood or the tornado that’s very destructive,” U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “These are the kind of programs that will help us learn a little bit more about that.”

Vilsack made the announcement this past week at a farm near the Quad Cities, in Rock Island County, Illinois.

“Conservation has this extraordinary opportunity not only to preserve the soil which is critically important to this farming operation and every farming operation, but also to preserve the quality of the water and the quantity of the water available,” Vilsack said.

The USDA awarded nearly $16 million from the Conservation Innovation Grant program this week. Vilsack says half of those grants will focus on soil health.

“It’s a way of preserving this great topsoil that we’ve been blessed to have in the Midwest and also preserving and conserving our scarce water resources so that we continue to have not just an abundance of water, but the ability of that water to provide additional economic opportunity in the form of tourism,” Vilsack said.

One of the grants is going to the National Corn Growers Assocaition, to find new ways to increase productivity and increase farmer participation in conservation efforts. Since it started several years ago, the Conservation Innovation Grant program has handed out $126 million to finance more than 300 research project. Two of the grants handed out this week will be used to experiment with cover crops in Iowa to improve soil health.