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To help farmers evaluate and implement conservation practices that have demonstrated benefits the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is awarding $25 million in grants. The funding is provided to project coordinators through the On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials program.

The program will help producers improve the health of their operations and help the Natural Resources Conservation Service build data to show benefits of innovative conservation systems and practices, said Kevin Norton, acting chief of the agency.

On-farm trials awardees work with the agency and farmers and ranchers to implement practices and systems that haven’t yet been widely adopted by producers. Awardees are required to evaluate the conservation and economic outcomes from the practices and systems and share critical information to inform future conservation work.

Fourteen projects are receiving awards. Six projects focus on the adoption and evaluation of soil-health management systems and practices. The remaining projects focus on irrigation-water management, precision agriculture and a variety of management technologies. Descriptions of a few of the projects are featured.

American Farmland Trust will work to stimulate adoption of various soil-health practices by involving farms in a project demonstrating regionally appropriate strategies. The project will be conducted across three regions covering seven states and six cropping systems. Through soil sampling, in-field assessment and crop-management protocols American Farmland Trust will track short-term soil, economic and social changes as farms transition to full soil-health management systems.

Michigan State University will work with producers to field test an inexpensive remote-sensor monitoring system in corn, soybean and small-vegetable production plots. The university will assess adoption through surveys conducted in collaboration with the Michigan Farm Bureau and the Michiana Irrigation Association.

University of Illinois, in collaboration with Washington State University’s Extension Program and corn, soybean and wheat producers, plans to deploy a data-intensive crop-management system based on on-farm precision experiments. Farmers will use tools to conduct site-specific, data-based evaluation of the yield costs of reducing nitrogen losses. That's expected to enable data-informed input-management decisions.

The University of Minnesota will implement on-farm precision nitrogen management and monitor corn trials on farms in Minnesota and Indiana. It will compare the agronomic, economic and environmental benefits of precision nitrogen-management technology to farmers’ current nitrogen-management practices.

Michigan State University in collaboration with corn, soybean and wheat farmers aims to reduce nitrogen-fertilizer losses by implementing two interconnected strategies – site-specific, data-driven, variable-rate nitrogen-fertilizer application rates, and replacement of unprofitable and-or unresponsive areas with restored native vegetation.

Visit nrcs.usda.gov and search for "CIG On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials" for a list of recipients and for more information.