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USDA using $10 million from infrastructure law for ‘roadmap’ to turn agricultural waste into more useful materials

Katie Peikes
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack toured Dan and Debbie's Creamery in Ely before he announced $10 million from last year's infrastructure law to put together a "roadmap" for creating more valuable products and construction materials out of agricultural waste like corn stalks and manure.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced a new pilot program to convert agricultural waste like field residue and manure into construction materials and consumer products, an effort to fight climate change and bolster rural economic development.

A lot of food waste goes to landfills, which emit methane into the atmosphere. The U.S. Department of Agriculture wants to turn that waste into something more climate-friendly and useful, called “biobased products."

At Dan and Debbie’s Creamery in Ely, Vilsack announced $10 million from President Joe Biden’s infrastructure law to develop what he called a “supply chain roadmap” to do this.

Vilsack said he’d expect communities, farms and co-ops to work together and think about what sorts of biobased products could be made in their area and how they’d make them. The USDA is accepting applications for this pilot program through the end of August.

“The idea is how can we take crop residue and other feedstocks,” Vilsack said, “and how do we convert them and change them into biobased products for consumers or in construction.”

Vilsack says the pilot program can help livestock producers, for example, prevent manure from entering rivers and streams.

“You find an alternative use for that waste, you separate the water and the solids, for example in manure, you reclaim the water,” Vilsack said. “Why is that important? Because we’re faced in some parts of this country with some serious water shortages.”

Universities, farmers and communities can apply for funding, which will be awarded by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

“All of this is designed essentially to create additional revenue streams for farmers, additional job opportunities in rural places,” Vilsack said, “and states like Iowa should be all over this.”

Katie Peikes is IPR's agriculture reporter