Climate-smart grants for farmers intended to enable prompt action on carbon emissions

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions at scale in agriculture operations as quickly as possible in the Midwest is the focus for

the McKnight Foundation Midwest Climate and Energy program.

During the past year, the program has been expanding support for climate solutions on natural and working lands — range lands, farms, and forest lands — that support life and livelihoods, recognizing the need to partner with stewards of these lands to safeguard the places many call home.

“From devastating storms and flooding to record heat waves and droughts, farmers are experiencing firsthand the threat of climate change,” said McKnight president Tonya Allen. “We need to act quickly and systematically to make it easier for farmers to advance climate solutions on the ground, which will make their operations and their livelihoods more resilient while also creating healthy soil, clean water, and a thriving economy.”

McKnight’s working lands strategy centers farmers as the leaders of climate solutions in co-creating climate-resilient and just food systems by:

•protecting natural areas like forests and grasslands that absorb and store carbon,

•decreasing emissions in farm operations, and

•scaling up agricultural practices that support the climate, like reducing tillage, leaving crop residues on fields, growing cover crops, diversifying plantings, adding agroforestry, and integrating livestock.

“Agriculture is the backbone of our rural economies, and the eight Midwest states where McKnight works account for 33 percent of U.S. emissions from agriculture,” said Sarah Christiansen, program director for the Midwest Climate and Energy. “Our region and our farmers can lead the nation by putting millions of acres of farmland to work as climate solutions, bringing even greater long-term prosperity.”

During the second quarter of 2022, McKnight awarded $575,000 toward this goal through the program to organizations helping farmers implement climate-smart farming practices and advancing policy frameworks for how agriculture can mitigate climate change.

Overall, McKnight awarded 63 grants totaling approximately $15 million during the quarter.

“The partners we’re featuring this quarter are working to seed and grow the number of farmers in Minnesota and Iowa implementing climate-smart farming practices to mitigate emissions and sequester carbon,” said Tenzin Dolkar, Midwest Climate and Energy program officer.

Dolkar said farmers know productive and profitable operations go hand-in-hand with protecting natural resources, building healthy soil and protecting water quality.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is responsible for protecting the food supply, protecting natural resources, and cultivating the agricultural economy.

McKnight’s $100,000 grant during the next year will support the MDA in creating a new Climate Smart Farms Project within the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program. Through the project, farmers can receive a minimum of $1,000 a year for up to five years to assess and apply climate-focused conservation practices, such as managing nitrogen fertilizer and manure to reduce nitrous oxide and methane emissions, minimizing tillage, grazing livestock, and planting perennial crops to sequester carbon.

The project will also provide one-on-one technical assistance to help producers assess which management options best align with new carbon market programs.

“Because of our changing climate, farmers are experiencing more frequent bouts of drought, heavier rain events, extreme temperature swings, and more invasive pests and plants, said Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen.

Farmers are at the frontlines of climate change impact, and now, through the Climate Smart Farms Project, they can play a pivotal role by implementing practices that build soil health, protect water resources, and increase farm profitability, Petersen said.

With $75,000 in support during the next year from McKnight, the University of Minnesota’s Department of Applied Economics will research farmers’ economic behavior to understand barriers and incentives for adopting practices that improve soil health and make their operations more resilient to the changing climate. Additionally, the department will interview Soil and Water Conservation District staff — who work directly with landowners to improve and protect soil, water, and natural resources, and have direct impact on farmers’ practices — to gain a deeper understanding of their implementation challenges and opportunities.

“By delving into the perceptions of farmers and conservation district staff, we can produce specific recommendations of how to improve the design, uptake, and efficacy of state programs like the Climate Smart Farms Project and, consequently, farm sustainability outcomes on the ground,” said Derric Pennington, senior sustainability scientist with the Department of Applied Economics.


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