Virginia Tech Receives Record $80 Million Grant to Help Farmers Implement Climate-Smart Practices That Could Significantly Reduce Greenhouse Gases | VTX

The Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has received an $80 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to pilot a program that will pay producers to implement climate-smart practices on farms in all sizes and of all products, an initiative that could have significant impacts on the fight against greenhouse gases.

Virginia Tech will distribute at least $54 million directly to producers to help them adopt these climate-smart agricultural practices for crop and animal production. The grant, which is the largest in the university’s history, will create a three-year pilot program in Virginia, Arkansas, Minnesota and North Dakota that will test the feasibility of rolling out a similar program to national scale. If expanded nationwide, the program could help growers reduce agricultural emissions by 55% and total U.S. emissions by 8% after 10 years.

“We are proud to lead this effort that inspires agricultural producers to adopt climate-smart practices and the financial means to do so,” said Tom Thompson, project principal investigator, associate dean of the college, director of CALS Global, and a teacher. “This is a watershed program that helps the agricultural industry be a leader in the fight against climate change.

According to Thompson, the credit for the pilot concept belongs to RIPE (Rural Investment to Protect our Environment), the lead Virginia Tech partner in the pilot program, and the project will be known as the RIPE Partnership.

The pilot program will pay producers $100 per acre or animal unit for the voluntary adoption of climate-smart practices that deliver more than that amount in public environmental benefits. Unlike previous cost-sharing programs that placed some of the financial burden of adopting climate-smart practices on growers, this program pays growers more than the cost of implementing those practices while improving their bottom line. financial. In addition to RIPE, 15 state and national organizations will help implement the RIPE partnership.

The RIPE partnership pilot will reach approximately 5,200 farms representing up to 600,000 acres in the first four states. If extended nationwide, up to 80% of agricultural producers could be enrolled in the program, which would have a significant impact on global carbon emissions. Only about 3% of producers currently participate in carbon reduction programs.

Along with tackling climate change, the project will also aim to boost agricultural productivity to help feed a growing global population that is expected to reach over 9 billion by 2050.

“The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has been a driving force for innovation and the adoption of best practices that have helped the agricultural industry grow since Virginia Tech was founded 150 years ago” , said Alan Grant, dean of the college. “This pilot program is central to our land-grant mission as we strive to serve our communities by investing our time and knowledge to help them thrive now and for generations to come.

Producers will also be able to market their climate-smart products to the American public through certificates with tracking numbers. Informed by feedback from a series of roundtables, the tracking system will include the information commodity buyers need to achieve their sustainability goals.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is “delivering on its promise to create and expand these market opportunities for U.S. agriculture and to be the global leader in climate-smart agricultural production,” the secretary said. to Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, when he recently announced $2.8 billion in funding for 70 climate-smart projects. “This effort will increase the competitive advantage of American agriculture both domestically and internationally, create wealth that will stay in rural communities, and support a wide range of producers and farm types.”

In Virginia, the college partners with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Virginia Cooperative Extension, and Virginia State University to roll out the program. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services also provided support for the grant application.

A website will be available in the coming months for producers in the pilot states to apply and register for the program.

Virginia Tech researchers will create a model that selects participants to ensure program diversity. At least 40 percent of participants will be underserved and smallholders, reaching at least 2,100 farms. A minimum of 630 farms with socially disadvantaged or limited resource producers will participate in the pilot project.

The grant will provide $2 million to Minnesota and Virginia to pilot the implementation of high-value, high-cost climate-smart practices in animal feed operations. The short-term impacts of the pilot project will be an estimated greenhouse gas benefit of 320,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent and a total environmental value of $220 million. The national program would have a benefit-cost ratio of 5:1, reaping a total environmental benefit of $440 billion, assuming that multiple climate-smart practices are implemented on the same acres of cropland and the same animal units after ten years of the program.

Producers will receive 50% of the initial payment, 25% after implementation and 25% upon completion of the final report. Producers with limited resources may be eligible for a 100% upfront payment.

The program will draw heavily on Virginia Tech research and programs, including the Global Agricultural Productivity Report (GAP Report) and insights from experts in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics and the School of Science. animal.

There will be rigorous monitoring during the three-year pilot program to ensure that the transaction costs associated with implementing climate-smart initiatives are minimized and that there are few barriers for producers who adopt such initiatives in their operations. Virginia Tech researchers will track the initiative’s greenhouse gas savings as they are implemented, quantify the benefits of other environmental impacts such as reduced soil erosion, and examine the consumers’ willingness to pay for products with climate-smart labels.

Some of the program’s climate-smart practices include:

  • Cultivation practices: Cover crops; direct sowing; reduced tillage; nutrient management, including precise nutrient management; conservation crop rotation; silvopasture; riparian forest buffer; riparian grass cover.
  • Rice practices: Residue management, no-tillage; residue management, reduced tillage; irrigation water management–alternate wetting and drying for water conservation in rice; conservation crop rotation; nutrient management, including precision application and/or advanced formulations.
  • Husbandry practices: Comprehensive nutrient and manure management plan and implementation; roofs and covers; waste sorting facility; feed management to reduce enteric emissions; prescribed grazing; nutrient management; silvopasture.

Each state participating in the program will work with local conservation districts and partner with organizations to ensure underserved producers are part of the program. Virginia Tech will also work to ensure that enrollment in the program is statistically representative of the diversity of farm operations in each state.

If this bill is adopted nationally, Congress could set a target for a minimum level of additional reductions to be achieved and grant the USDA authority to increase payment terms for the adoption of new practices without creating incentive to delay adoption.

“It’s an extraordinarily exciting time to be involved in agriculture,” said Thompson. “Farmers have always been the great stewards of our land, and American agriculture has long been an engine of productivity. This pilot program will help them continue to be so for generations to come.

At Virginia Tech, faculty involved in the project include:

  • Tom Thompson, Associate Dean and Director of CALS Global, Professor
  • Ann Steensland, GAP Reporting Initiative Lead, CALS Global
  • Johanna Cricenti, Grants Specialist, CALS Global
  • Matt Holt, professor and head of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics
  • Elinor Benami, Assistant Professor, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics
  • Wei Zhang, Assistant Professor, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics
  • John Bovay, Assistant Professor, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics
  • Ford Ramsey, Assistant Professor, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics
  • Chi Ta, Assistant Professor, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics
  • Robin White, Associate Professor, School of Animal Sciences

Nationally, pilot program partners include:

  • Rural Investment to Protect Our Environment (RIPE)
  • Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation
  • North Dakota Farmers Union
  • Minnesota Soil and Water Resources Council
  • Arkansas Department of Agriculture
  • Sustainable Food Lab
  • Supporters of agricultural research
  • environmental initiative
  • Arkansas Agricultural Council
  • Arkansas Rice Federation
  • Minnesota Farmers Union
  • Minnesota State Breeders Association
  • Minnesota Soil Health Coalition
  • National Association of Conservation Districts
  • National Council of Black Producers

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