AUBURN, Ala. (WRBL) – The Auburn University College of Agriculture received a $3 million grant for research and extension faculty to encourage innovative conservation practices among state row crop farmers.
According to a university spokesperson, the grant was awarded by the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials, a new part of 2018’s Farm Bill.
While $24 million was awarded overall, Auburn’s $3 million is the largest award amount given to a single entity. Officials say the grants are designed to help partners implement evaluate innovative approaches that have demonstrated conservation benefits on farmland.
Auburn researchers say conservation practices are needed on Alabama farms for multiple reasons, including soil degradation.
“Many soils in Alabama are severely degraded and have low organic matter content,” assistant professor Rishi Prasad said. “It is important to rebuild soil health to conserve soil for use by future generations. Increased adoption of cover crops by Alabama farmers can create sustainable row-crop production systems while protecting the state’s soil and water resources.”
Prasad is an Alabama Extension specialist in the Department of Crop, Soil, and Environmental Sciences and leads the research project benefiting from the grant. Part of what the grant will be used for is to demonstrate water-smart irrigation practices, especially with how common droughts are during Alabama summers. The program will also work to address and evaluate nutrient losses and demonstrate the benefits of improved conservation practices for farmers.
“Summer droughts in Alabama are very common, often causing yield losses,” Prasad said. “The adoption of water-smart irrigation in Alabama is considered one of the most important strategies for mitigating the negative impacts of drought. This project will demonstrate the use of these technologies and help increase the adoption of irrigation in Alabama.”
Posey Farms, Lazenby Farms, and L.C. Farms will be used to demonstrate the practices outlined by the research program. A network of learning sites will be created at Lawrence, Geneva, and Lee counties’ extension offices, according to assistant professor Audrey Gamble.
“Farmers will be called for face-to-face meetings, dinner meetings, workshops and field days where information on topics related to cover crops, water-smart irrigation strategies, nutrient budgets and nutrient-use efficiencies will be presented,” Gamble said. “As project data becomes available, information will be shared with farmers at learning sites. The project already is underway, and we will be instrumenting these demonstration farms in the fall of 2020.”