Working Lands

USDA Invests in Audubon Arkansas’s Farm Conservation Work

Audubon Arkansas awarded a USDA Conservation Innovation Grant to help farmers adapt to climate change through native plant production.

Native grass production plots double as buffers for traditional row crops. Photo: Audubon Delta

Little Rock, Sept. 8, 2016 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that Audubon Arkansas’s Native Agriculture to InVigorate Ecosystems (NATIVE) Project has been selected as a grant recipient from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The $291,445 investment comes through the USDA’s Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program, which fosters innovation in conservation tools and strategies on farms across the country.

Demand for native prairie plant seeds by conservation organizations and others working to restore habitat for birds, pollinators, and other wildlife continues to grow in the state. Audubon Arkansas’s NATIVE Project helps farmers meet that demand plus adapt to climate change by assisting them with production of a climate change-resistant specialty crop that promotes on- farm biodiversity. “Native warm season grasses and pollinator-friendly forbs are economical, environmentally sustainable, alternative cash-crops able to withstand drought and other severe weather events made worse by climate change,” says Audubon Arkansas’s Field Projects Coordinator Jonathan Young. “Audubon’s work over the past six years with farmers in the Delta to grow four species of prairie grasses has already paid off for the farmers in terms of seed sales and on-farm conservation benefits.”

Audubon will build upon its expertise in conservation practices and experience with historically underserved producers in the Delta to recruit producers in three more regions of the state, and to begin  native wildflower seed production while expanding grass seed production to 100 acres. Once this acreage is in full production, Audubon predicts that producers can harvest 10,000 pounds of seed annually for sale in commercial and consumer markets, while reaping soil, water, and wildlife benefits.

The Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission will work with Audubon on collecting starter seeds from prairie remnants. Further technical assistance and market access will be provided by Roundstone Native Seed, LLC, a native plant production company in Upton, KY, with expertise in native seed production and distribution. Producers will have the option to form a business partnership with Roundstone that will open new national markets to small-scale Arkansas farmers.

“The Conservation Innovation Grant program is a highly competitive conservation grant program that helps put the very best conservation tools to work on privately held farms and forests, for maximum environmental impact,” said Vilsack. “This investment will offer farmers, ranchers and forest landowners new ways to protect their natural resources and new revenue streams to keep their operations viable, building on the record amount of conservation work that has already been done under this Administration. Demand for this type of support outpaces what USDA can provide alone, but outside partners are willing to make additional investments because they see the good it can do for the environment and for their communities.”

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