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CDA Completes Landmark USDA Grant to Fund Up to $25 Million for Soil Health Projects

BROOMFIELD, Colo. – The Colorado Department of Agriculture has finalized the grant agreement to make a significant investment in Colorado’s STAR soil health program. CDA’s STAR program was one of 70 projects selected for funding by the United States Department of Agriculture under the Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities project. This is a historic investment in Colorado agriculture that will advance soil and climate solutions led by farmers and ranchers.

CDA will receive $25 million to more than double its participation in the Saving Tomorrow’s Agricultural Resources (STAR) program across Colorado, expand research into the benefits of regenerative agriculture in eight western Intermountain states , scale the model nationwide, and continue to build markets for growers who deploy climate-smart farming practices.

This historic investment for Colorado farmers, ranchers and farming communities means a significant influx of funds to help growers absorb the financial risks of adopting new growing and rangeland practices that improve soil health and climate resilience. This program has always been and will remain entirely voluntary. The funds will expand the STAR Plus program to work with Colorado’s diverse growers, from small farms to large-scale production operations. In addition to expanding the ability to offer financial and technical support to STAR participants, the ambitious Colorado project soil health pilot program will be scaled up nationwide to establish a reliable market signal that will provide producers with new and diversified market opportunities that will reward them for their management.



“This unprecedented funding for Colorado agriculture will allow CDA and its partners to put their full force behind the soil health initiatives we have piloted for the past two years,” said Colorado Agriculture Commissioner Kate Greenberg. “This major USDA investment will allow us to show consumers the progress Colorado farmers and ranchers are making in deploying climate-smart agricultural practices by developing market signals that assure customers of our commitment to fighting climate change. climate change. This funding will show the nation and the world that Colorado agriculture is at the forefront of innovative production and stewardship in a changing world.

Farmers and ranchers experience the impacts of climate change firsthand, and healthy soils are key to mitigating these effects in agricultural landscapes. Improving soil health can increase carbon sequestration, reduce agricultural runoff, decrease erosion, and support more productive, high-yielding crops.



PARTNERSHIP

The USDA and CDA have worked in partnership to advance agricultural solutions to climate change and STAR’s funding is direct evidence of this.

“This funding exemplifies USDA’s commitment to natural resource conservation partnerships,” said Clint Evans, Colorado state ecologist for the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. “The STAR program leverages federal dollars, with state and local planning and actions to directly benefit soil and other natural resources, as well as climate-smart agricultural efforts.”

STAR was shaped from the ground up by farmers, ranchers, conservation districts and other partners who helped CDA adapt it to work for different crops, ranges and different methods of farming and d farming across the state.

“Our community may be behind on some agricultural metrics, but we are leading in terms of sustainability and all because our traditional practices have been preserved for hundreds of years,” said Costilla County Rancher and Commissioner Steven Romero, a board member of the Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association, a key partner in this grant. “It’s amazing to see a program like this come to fruition. As a company, we are finally putting a dollar amount on sustainability and how people have been practicing for ages.

The STAR program was designed to serve everyone, from the smallest producer to the largest, in all types of production. This commitment to soil health has also been a key priority for a number of commodity groups across Colorado.

“Farmers have been ahead of the curve when it comes to sustainability, as evidenced by the incredible environmental improvements in many areas since 1980. This grant is a great opportunity that will help growers find innovative practices to boost the health of our soils, which is the basis of what we do and strengthen the resilience of our agricultural systems”, said Nick Colglazier, executive director of the Colorado Corn Administrative Committee. “It will continue agriculture’s journey towards sustainability, so consumers can continue to trust that the food, fiber and fuel they buy ensures a sustainable future for all.”

The Saving Tomorrow’s Agriculture Resources program is an innovative and simple framework that allows farmers and ranchers to assess their current production system, identify areas for improvement, document their progress and share their successes. In Colorado, STAR evaluates 11 different cropping and pasture systems for soil health and serves as a complementary tool to the more robust STAR Plus program. STAR Plus is a three-year program that provides financial and technical assistance to growers and is implemented in partnership with local conservation district experts.

“We believe the expansion of this soil health program is an important step in creating a better future for our industry,” said Jim Erlich, executive director of the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee in a letter of support submitted with the CSC grant application. “Recent struggles with a prolonged drought have placed enormous pressure on our underground aquifer. Our growers believe this program can help them continue their adoption of cover crop strategies to save water and soil and to increase material. organic on their farms.

NEW MARKETS

Funding from the grant will also help develop new markets for items produced using regenerative farming practices. CDA will work to develop and implement a strategy to make the STAR rating a market signal for buyers and consumers interested in supporting climate-smart agricultural practices. CDA will also work to connect Colorado STAR participants directly to supply chain partners and integrate STAR into the Colorado Proud program, CDA’s highly successful marketing program that Colorado consumers already associate with high-quality food produced. locally.

The 2022 growing season was the first year of operation for the STAR+ pilot program. There are currently 16 conservation districts, three eligible entities, and 130 farmers and ranchers who are shaping this program with us as we grow. The program is expected to more than double over the next application period which will cover the 2024 growing season.

CDA’s proposal received 60 letters of support, including conservation districts, local and national nonprofit organizations, agricultural commodity groups, and food buyers and processors. CDA will work closely with project partners to increase participation in STAR and conduct research that quantifies soil health benefits. The program will include research sites in Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Washington to understand the carbon, water and economic benefits of healthy soil practices. Incentive payments through the STAR will be targeted to historically underserved farmer populations.

List of project partners and their roles:

  • Colorado Natural Resources Conservation Service continues its longstanding conservation partnership with CDA and will administer the CSC agreement locally.
  • Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at Colorado State University quantify and verify climate outcomes across the program and investigate soil health, soil moisture, and carbon impacts of new practices. This will include the use of COMET tools, soil sampling, soil moisture probes, economic analysis and sociological analysis. Contractors include Montana State University, New Mexico State University, Utah State University, University of Idaho, and University of Wyoming.
  • CSU agricultural experimental station and CSU extension will provide technical assistance to producers enrolled in STAR Plus.
  • CSU Department of Sociology will investigate the impacts of varying participation in the STAR program on the adoption of soil health practices.
  • Champaign County Soil & Water Conservation District (Illinois), originator of the STAR program, will create STAR National, establish a uniform market signal for STAR, and support STAR’s expansion into other western states.
  • Conservation Districts and other eligible entities will enroll farmers and support the adoption of climate-smart practices throughout Colorado.
  • National Center for Appropriate Technologies facilitate peer-to-peer learning meetings where farmers and ranchers can share lessons learned and best practices when implementing soil health practices.
  • Colorado Open Lands and the Association Sangre de Cristo d’Acequias facilitate peer-to-peer learning within the Acequia community and enroll STAR Plus participants.

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