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Secretary of ag kicks off climate-smart funding

CommodityClassic SoilHealth PanelAt the recent Commodity Classic in Orlando, Fla., Missouri farmer Neal Bredehoeft, second from left, shares his experience in growing cover crops during a panel discussion on the new Farmers for Soil Health program. Also on the panel were, from left, Brandon Hunnicutt, National Corn Growers Association farmer leader from Nebraska; Jim Douglas, United Soybean Board farmer leader from Indiana; Gary Asay, National Pork Board leader and hog farmer from Illinois; Robert Bonnie, USDA undersecretary; and Ben West, Farmers for Soil Health executive director.Farmers in MFA territory are among those who could benefit from the first programs to be officially launched under the USDA’s Partnerships for Cli­mate-Smart Commodities program.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joined leaders from farm industry groups to publicly sign memorandums of under­standing for two new soil-health programs during last month’s Commodity Classic in Orlando, Fla. Each pilot project spotlight­ed at the national event will receive grant funding of up to $95 million.

“This is a really important day for Amer­ican agriculture,” Vilsack said. “It is the beginning of a number of projects that are going to transform how we farm, where we farm and what we do to produce sus­tainably produced crops and livestock.”

One of those projects is Farmers for Soil Health, a partnership that looks to increase cover crops by 1 million acres over 20 states, includ­ing Missouri, Iowa and Kansas. The initiative is led by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation along with the National Corn Growers Association, the United Soybean Board and the National Pork Board. The University of Missouri is also part of the collaboration.

Farmers for Soil Health creates a producer-led cover crop pro­gram intended to advance sustainable soil health practices that improve farm profitability. The idea is to accelerate long-term cover crop adoption by incentivizing farmers through a verified ecosystem marketplace.

Prior to Vilsack’s signing event, Missouri row-crop farmer Neal Bredehoeft, a director on the United Soybean Board, was among participants in a panel explaining the purpose and importance of the program. Bredehoeft, who farms in Lafayette County, has been no-tilling since the early 1990s and began planting cover crops about a decade ago. He told the audience the practices have helped reduce erosion, provide control of winter annual weeds and improve soil health.

Bredehoeft said he believes farmers will like the Farmers for Soil Health initiative because early adopters of conservation practices, like himself, can participate. There will be different levels of cost-share enrollment based on whether farmers are new to cover crops or have already established the practice.

“Any farm, no matter what stage they are at using cover crops, can sign up for this cost share,” Bredehoeft said.

The second agreement signed by Vilsack was the Midwest Climate-Smart Commodity Program, led by the Iowa Soybean Association with other partners. That program will direct financial incentives to farmers in 12 states, including Missouri, Iowa and Kansas in MFA territory, to implement climate-smart conservation practices. The program will run for five years and deliver outcome-based payments to participating farmers.

Robert Bonnie, USDA undersecretary for farm production and conservation who was part of the Farmers for Soil Health panel, said the voluntary, producer-led aspect of the two high­lighted programs was a key reason they were singled out from the highly competitive Climate-Smart Commodities applicants.

“In working with agriculture to increase the deployment of climate-smart practices, we want to do something that puts the farmers in charge of decisions about their own operations and puts USDA in the position of providing financial assistance to make that happen,” Bonnie said. “As we look across the propos­als we selected, they’re all about voluntary stewardship—not a top-down regulatory-heavy approach but a bottom-up incen­tive-based collaboration.”

To learn more about the two projects mentioned here, visit Farmers for Soil Health online at farmersforsoilhealth.com and Midwest Climate-Smart Commodity Program at theoutcomesfund.com/midwest-climate-smart.

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