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USDA awards grants to ISU, Iowa Soybean Association

Amy Mayer
IPR file
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $40 million in grants for conservation projects

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is putting $40 million towards projects that will adopt new tools to bolster agriculture and conservation, including improving soil health. Two Iowa projects got some of that funding.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack announced the grants Thursday at Iowa State University, which is one of the grant recipients.

The grants come from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Vilsack said it can be difficult for farmers to employ new conservation practices that often require big costs upfront.

“The on-farm program really provides additional resources to make it a little bit easier for farmers to embrace innovation in conservation,” Vilsack said.

Iowa State University got nearly $540,000 to explore “relay intercropping." That’s when farmers plant a small grain, such as winter wheat, into a row crop, like soybeans. They harvest the soybeans in the fall, seed the winter wheat in, plant soybeans into the winter wheat in the spring, and harvest the winter wheat in the summer. The idea is to get soybean yields, as well as an economic benefit

Jackie Comito, the program director for Iowa Learning Farms, said the team will research relay intercropping for three growing seasons at six commercial and three university research farms.

One of the big questions, Comito said, is whether farmers will accept the new practice.

“The introduction of an innovative conservation practice, such as a third cash crop, is often complicated by farmers’ social identities and the social loss a farmer may experience when doing something new,” Comito said.

Vilsack said large commercial operations are profiting way more than small farms. And small and mid-sized farmers need new ways to make money so they can stay afloat.

“Let’s figure out a way in which as you embrace sustainable practices that you benefit from those sustainable practices with increased productivity, with increased value,” Vilsack said.

The Iowa Soybean Association also received some of the USDA’s funding – $910,000 to “promote the adoption of newly synthesized cropping systems that increase profitability, reduce nutrient losses, and improve soil health,” according to the USDA.

Katie Peikes is IPR's agriculture reporter