USDA Invests in Research Innovations to Improve Soil Health and More

The Department of agriculture grants will invest at least $21.7M in several projects.

April 21, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that the Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) will invest at least $21.7 million in several key programs to help agricultural producers manage the impacts of climate change on their lands and production. NIFA awarded $6.3 million for 14 Soil Health grants and $5.4 million for seven Signals in the Soil grants through its Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). NIFA also is investing at least $10 million this year in a new AFRI program area priority called “Extension, Education, and USDA Climate Hub Partnerships” to train the next generation of agriculturalists and foresters to incorporate climate change research into their management practices.
This is the first in a series of announcements by USDA this week to underscore the department’s renewed commitment to addressing climate change through adaptation and mitigation with climate-smart tools for farmers, ranchers, producers and foresters.
“USDA is committed to working alongside American producers, rural businesses and landowners to help them lead the way on addressing climate change, using the best USDA data and science to help improve their practices and spur new market opportunities,” said Vilsack.

Some projects funded from the Soil Health AFRI priority area include:

  • Northern Arizona University’s project, “Pelletized Fire Mosses to Enhance Soil Health After High Severity Forest Fire,” for a new and effective way to boost soil health and promote the recovery of burned ecosystems
  • South Dakota State University’s project, “Flower Fields and Soils: The Impacts of Native Perennial Monoculture Plots on Soil Health,” aimed at improving the sustainability of agricultural production and evaluating new agricultural practices to improve soil health

Some projects funded from the AFRI Signals in the Soil interagency program with the National Science Foundation include:

  • University of New Hampshire’s project, “Novel Soil Frost Sensing Systems for Tracking Freeze-Thaw Cycles,” to develop, test and deploy wireless sensors and a ground-penetrating radar system for continuous measurements of soil frost. This is important because seasonal soil freeze and thaw impacts half the southern region and can affect permafrost, agroecosystems, urban ecosystems and the interface between humans and the environment.
  • Georgia State University’s project, “A Novel Large-Scale Radon Measurement Wireless Testbed for Spatio-Temporal Study of Radon in Surficial Soil,” will develop a real-time radon measurement test with a wireless sensor network to be deployed around the northeastern suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, a metro area of six million residents with known high-potential for radon exposure. This is important because exposure to radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer, according to the World Health Organization.

“By combining NIFA and National Science Foundation resources, the Signals in the Soil program fosters collaboration among a broad set of researchers to fund the most innovative and high-impact projects where multiple disciplines converge to produce novel soil sensing systems,” said NIFA director Dr. Carrie Castille.

On other USDA news, the department is implementing updates to the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) for producers of agricultural commodities marketed in 2020 who faced market disruptions due to COVID-19. Vilsack announced an expansion of CFAP on March 24, 2021. This is part of a larger effort to reach a greater share of farming operations and improve USDA pandemic assistance.

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