Farmers needed for $4 million conservation innovation grant
David Bullock in field
David Bullock leads the Data Intensive Farm Management research team, working with farmers to conduct field trials on management practices. Bullock’s team received a $4 million grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service to support their work.

URBANA, Ill. – A University of Illinois research team, led by Agricultural and Consumer Economics Professor David Bullock, received a $4 million award from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to implement on-farm conservation practices.

The U of I project is entitled “Improving the Economic and Ecological Sustainability of US Crop Production through On-Farm Precision Experimentation.” In collaboration with Washington State University’s Extension Program and cotton, corn, soy, and wheat producers, researchers plans to deploy a data-intensive crop management system based on on-farm precision experiments. Farmers will use these tools to conduct site-specific, data-based evaluation of the yield costs of reducing nitrogen losses, enabling data-informed input management decisions.

“The great thing about this award is that it gives us funding to make sure that every year we can increase the profits of participating farmers and their crop consultants,” Bullock says.

“We think that the field trials we will be running are truly revolutionary, but we need interested farmers and crop consultants to get in touch with us right away so we are ready to go in spring 2021. Contact us through the Data-Intensive Farm Management Project website to express your interest. We’ll be running trials on corn, soybeans, cotton, and wheat, and working with farmers all over the U.S.,” he adds.

Bullock leads the Data Intensive Farm Management (DIFM) research team in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES).

 “This is exciting and impressive news for researchers and producers,” ACES Dean Kim Kidwell says. “David and his team have been successfully working on these transformational ideas for years. The NRCS award recognizes their innovative approach and will allow for even greater impacts on the livelihood of farmers across the country.”

NRCS is awarding $25 million in grants designed to help partners implement and evaluate innovative conservation practices that have demonstrated benefits on farmland. The U of I project received the largest of 14 awards.

The funding is provided through On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials (On-Farm Trials), a component of the Conservation Innovation Grants program first authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill.

On-Farm Trials awardees work with NRCS and farmers and ranchers to implement innovative practices and systems on their lands that have not yet been widely adopted by producers. Awardees are required to evaluate the conservation and economic outcomes from these practices and systems, giving partners, producers and NRCS critical information to inform conservation work in the future.

“On-Farm Trials help producers improve the health of their operations while at the same time helping NRCS build data to show the benefit of innovative conservation systems and practices applied on the land,” NRCS Acting Chief Kevin Norton says.

Six of the awards focus on the adoption and evaluation of soil health management systems and practices. The remaining projects focus on irrigation water management, precision agriculture and a variety of management technologies.