Source: USDA news release
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $70 million in partnerships that will improve outreach to underserved producers and communities to expand access to conservation assistance, including programs funded by the Inflation Reduction Act, as well as career opportunities. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has announced the selection of 139 projects with entities for a one- to three-year engagement that encourage participation in NRCS programs, especially in underserved communities and among urban and small-scale producers. Projects will extend outreach to producers who are beginning, limited resource, socially disadvantaged, and veterans, and will highlight opportunities for students to pursue careers in agriculture, natural resources and related sciences.
“USDA is committed to removing barriers for underserved producers to all USDA services. The projects selected under the Equity in Conservation Outreach Cooperative Agreements will partner with NRCS to better ensure underserved producers receive the benefits our conservation programs deliver, including those oversubscribed programs that received a boost of funding from the Inflation Reduction Act,” said NRCS Chief Terry Cosby. “NRCS is investing in continued support of community-based organizations and partners that are instrumental in supporting conservation outreach to underserved producers and underserved communities.”
The Equity in Conservation Outreach Cooperative Agreements include projects that:
Promote the benefits of NRCS programs through education or demonstration of conservation practices.
Develop community conservation partnerships that engage underserved producers to plan and protect farmland ecosystems, watersheds and wildlife habitat in underserved communities.
Inform small-scale or urban agriculture producers about opportunities to participate in conservation programs.
Support education on, planning for and adoption of climate-smart conservation practices.
Projects will reach underserved groups through a combination of program outreach and technical assistance in one or more of the following five NRCS priority areas:
Addressing local natural resource issues.
Promoting conservation career opportunities.
Expanding adoption of climate-smart conservation.
Encouraging conservation in small-scale and urban agriculture.
Developing conservation leadership skills and opportunities.
Selected projects include:
Minority Farmers of the South will advance conservation and equity by applying drone technology. Limited resource rice farmers will be provided high-resolution LiDAR data to help update their conservation plans. This data provides farmers an alternative to expensive precision-leveling, which is expected to achieve a net savings to farmers of over $1,000 per acre.
Urban Transformation Network will expand conservation assistance to underserved communities and producers through an innovative program of the Urban Transformation Network, (UTN). The project will be supported by partners who will provide conservation assistance to underserved producers and communities, including juveniles required to perform community service, across the Chicagoland area, and downstate Illinois. UTN partners include Metropolitan Farms, an urban aquaponics farm located in the West Humboldt Park neighborhood, the Museum of Science and Industry, Shedd Aquarium, Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind, Daley City College and more.
Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians will provide more technical support for small-scale agriculture projects and land stewardship to the Red Cliff community through three focus areas: building staff capacity and expertise through staff funding and professional development; providing additional technical support to the greater Red Cliff community and Red Cliff producers related to agriculture, natural resource management, and food sovereignty; and conducting outreach to foster youth leadership, interest, and skills in natural resources, agriculture and food sovereignty.
The selected projects build on NRCS’ fiscal year 2022 investment of $50 million in more than 100 partnerships to expand access to conservation assistance for climate-smart agriculture and forestry. The fiscal year 2022 investment is supporting efforts in 44 states and territories.
Underserved producers include beginning, limited resource, socially disadvantaged, and veteran farmers and ranchers, as well as other underrepresented or disadvantaged communities.
Under the Biden-Harris administration, USDA is engaged in a whole-of-government effort to combat the climate crisis and conserve and protect our nation’s lands, biodiversity and natural resources including our soil, air and water. Through conservation practices and partnerships, USDA aims to enhance economic growth and create new streams of income for farmers, ranchers, producers and private foresters. Successfully meeting these challenges will require USDA and our agencies to pursue a coordinated approach alongside USDA stakeholders, including State, local and Tribal governments.