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USDA awards more than $1M in grants to aid socially disadvantaged farmers

Farm SubsidiesDURANT and STONEVILLE — Two Mississippi-based conservation projects have been singled out for more than $1 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture grant funding, including a project to help socially disadvantaged farmers adopt soil and water conservation technologies.

As authorized in the 2014 Farm bill, the Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) are provided on a competitive basis to encourage the development and application of new technologies that encourage improved conservation practices to address natural resource concerns. The 2014 CIG recipients were announced recently by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

“The Conservation Innovation Grant program allows farmers to work voluntarily with others to improve agriculture production while making changes that improve soil health and water quality,” said Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee who played a pivotal role in crafting the 2014 farm bill.“I am pleased that projects with a focus on adopting innovative practices that best fit Mississippi’s needs are receiving this support from the USDA,” he said.

For Mississippi, the Holmes County Food Hub in Durant was awarded a $640,775 grant to support a project titled “Introducing Innovative Conservation Technologies to Assist Socially Disadvantaged Farmers in West and Central Mississippi.” The goal of this project is to demonstrate to historically underserved farm operations the agricultural sustainability and profitability benefits of adopting conservation technologies, such as plasticulture and subsurface irrigation.

A $438,750 grant has been approved for the Stoneville-based Delta F.A.R.M. (BF Smith Foundation) for a project titled “Mississippi’s Soil Health Initiative: Fostering Awareness, Belief and Understanding through Local Experience and Evaluation.” In an effort to promote wider use and acceptance of innovative practices, the Delta F.A.R.M. project will demonstrate and field test soil health systems on 12 farms and 2,400 acres. It will compare the use of traditional and innovative demonstrated soil health systems to evaluate soil and water quality.

A separate $232,232 grant to Louisiana State University for soil health and pasture ecosystem improvement would also have an impact on Mississippi. This project seeks to demonstrate the benefits that multiple forage species forage have on grazing pastures.

In all, the Mississippi CIG grants are among 47 awards worth $15.7 million that were awarded nationwide by the USDA.

The NRCS determines CIG awards on a competitive basis to applicants that propose new or improved conservation practices. It is one of several conservation projects involving working agriculture lands that were reformed in the 2014 farm bill to improve cost-effectiveness and transparency. In all, the farm bill consolidated 23 conservation programs into 13 programs, saving $6.0 billion in mandatory spending by streamlining programs and reducing program duplication in taxpayer funding.

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