Savanna Institute and Partners Awarded USDA Grants for Climate-Smart Agriculture
Historic investment will help farmers produce, market and promote profitable, climate-smart commodities across the United States
Spring Green, WI – On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a historic investment in climate-smart agriculture. The Savanna Institute, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit, plays a key role on two teams led by The Nature Conservancy and Organic Valley that received grants to advance the potential for U.S. agriculture to sequester carbon and reduce emissions in commodity supply chains.
“We are honored and grateful to be among this incredible group of organizations and businesses who are committed to mitigating climate change,” says Keefe Keeley, Executive Director at the Savanna Institute. “Thank you to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for recognizing the importance of our collective work to lay the groundwork for widespread agroforestry.”
Agroforestry is a form of climate-smart agriculture that incorporates trees with other livestock and crops on the landscape. Farmers have significant potential to draw down carbon from the atmosphere if they adopt agroforestry practices widely. In addition to climate mitigation, people who practice agroforestry can grow profitable, healthy food that will help support local communities. Despite the benefits of agroforestry, only about 1% of U.S. farms currently practice it.
The grants awarded by the USDA will help change that. In partnership with The Nature Conservancy, the Savanna Institute and other partners, including Canopy Farm Management, Propagate Ventures, University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry, Tuskegee University, and Virginia Tech University, received a $60 million grant from the USDA to focus on advancing agroforestry for nut, fruit, and grass-fed beef production in 38 states across the eastern United States and Hawai’i. Because agroforestry sequesters 2 to 5 tons of carbon per acre per year, the level of adoption expected from this project would generate carbon sequestration equivalent to 1-2.5% of 2020 U.S. emissions from all sources, according to Joe Fargione, science director for The Nature Conservancy’s North America Region. In the longer term, over approximately 20 years, the project could catalyze more than 80 million acres of high-density agroforestry, mitigating 3% to 6% of the country’s 2020 emissions.
“Climate change is the greatest environmental challenge of our time, and farmers are on the frontlines,” said Fargione. “Putting more trees in agricultural landscapes is a win for farmers and a win for nature. It reduces greenhouse gas emissions by storing more carbon in the soil, and it helps farmers’ bottom line by creating an expanded revenue stream.”
In partnership with Organic Valley, the Savanna Institute and more than twenty partnering organizations will also receive $25 million in funding from the USDA to reduce supply chain emissions for Organic Valley dairy and egg producers through a carbon insetting program, which rewards farmers for carbon sequestration opportunities using agroforestry practices and other best practices. The grant will provide technical and financial resources to accelerate the adoption of 1,200 new carbon reduction and removal projects on 500 Organic Valley member-farms across rural America over the next five years.
“Organic Valley is creating a model approach to reducing carbon emissions, and we believe that model can be replicated across the food sector,” said Nicole Rakobitsch, director of sustainability at Organic Valley. “As we advance carbon insetting, we will share our learnings and best practices. Ultimately, we are excited to offer consumers the products they are demanding in the marketplace: dairy and eggs with a low carbon footprint.”
The awards to The Nature Conservancy, Organic Valley and partners were among 70 announced Wednesday by the USDA for a total of $2.8 billion in funding for Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Partnership Initiative. Fewer than 20 percent of submitted projects were funded.
The Savanna Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that works with farmers and scientists to lay the groundwork for widespread agroforestry adoption in the Midwest US. Inspired by the native savanna ecosystems that once covered much of this region, the Savanna Institute conducts research, education, and outreach to support the growth of diverse, perennial agroecosystems.
“We work collaboratively to heal the climate, repair the land, and strengthen communities by advancing agroforestry—a time-tested system of farming with trees and building resilience through deep-rooted diversity.”
– Keefe Keeley, Executive Director of the Savanna Institute