⋅ BY MARY HIGHTOWER ⋅
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Arkansas has connections to several projects being funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s $2.8 billion Climate-Smart Commodities program aimed at reducing greenhouse gases, improving carbon storage and developing new revenue streams for small and underserved farmers.
USDA on Sept. 14 unveiled the 70 projects it selected from among 450 applications. Two days later, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was at Isbell Farms in Humnoke to discuss the initiative, with some 200 people in the audience.
The Arkansas projects — which involve scores of private and public partners — include rice, beef and cotton, with work in greenhouse gas emissions monitoring, carbon sequestration and regenerative practices. All of the projects are expected to provide direct benefits to production agriculture, including for small and underserved producers, USDA said.
Vilsack said the initiative has projects in all 50 states and he expected some 50,000 farmers and more than 20 million acres to be involved.
“It’s going to create new opportunities for farmers and improve income,” he said. “It’s going to create a set of partnerships and collaboration that’s going to continue way beyond this particular project. It’s going to help underserved producers get a leg up. It’s going to create an opportunity for the U.S. to be in a leadership position internationally.”
Deacue Fields, head of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, was among those invited to speak on a panel with Vilsack. He said the Division of Agriculture will bring the strength of its research abilities to projects in which it’s involved.
“From the Division of Agriculture’s point, for us, this is a big deal. Rice has always been a point of pride for us in the division. We invest a lot in it,” Fields said. “We are going throughout all these projects making sure we provide the science behind it and make sure we can validate what’s good.”
The division’s Cooperative Extension Service, which provides educational outreach to Arkansas farmers, families and communities, was also named in one of the projects.
Benjamin Runkle, associate professor in the College of Engineering at the University of Arkansas, has researched greenhouse gas emissions in rice at Isbell Farms since 2015. He and his team set up an example of their monitoring equipment for the event.
“The new project in USDA’s Climate-Smart Commodities program, led by USA Rice, is implementing real change across 400,000 acres and that strategy is in part based on the work we have done on the Isbell Farm and other farms in the state,” Runkle said. “Our team has the role of helping create consistent standards for data collection and guidance for the project’s implementation and create a research-based estimate of the greenhouse gas emissions reduced as a direct result of this project.”