Dec 2, 2021
Colorado producers, conservation districts pursue soil health practices

To advance voluntary stewardship of working lands through the adoption of soil health practices, the Colorado Department of Agriculture announced Dec. 2 it has secured more than $3.4M in additional grant funding to support the voluntary Saving Tomorrow’s Agricultural Resources (STAR) program.

“Farmers and ranchers are some of the best stewards of the land.They play a critical role in deploying climate-smart agricultural practices, such as promoting healthy soils through cover crops and livestock rotation,” said Agriculture Commissioner Kate Greenberg. “Working together with our partner organizations and ag producers to promote conservation practices will open up new markets and revenue streams while helping to mitigate the effects of climate change and increase the resilience of ag operations.”

The STAR Program was established pursuant to HB 21-1181 with funding from
Colorado’s state stimulus (SB 21-235) and now additional resources from other partner agencies, including $2.4M from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Innovation Grant program.

“Improving the health and condition of Colorado’s soil is one of NRCS’s highest priorities,” Clint Evans, NRCS State Conservationist in Colorado, said in a news release. “Healthy soil is the foundation for many other natural resource conservation efforts. To that end, NRCS partners with other stakeholders like CDA to provide opportunities for landowners to learn about and take action to improve their soil’s health. It’s a partnership that works and benefits Colorado’s agricultural communities and beyond.”

Over the next three years, the majority of the grant funding will support conservation districts and fund incentive payments to be distributed to participating producers. The remaining funding will support research and education through partners, including Colorado State University, to provide technical assistance and advance research on the connection between soil health practices and the benefits to water, carbon sequestration, and on-farm economics, as well as help policymakers and producers understand the state of Colorado’s soils.

The voluntary STAR program is a practice-based rating system in which participating producers are assigned points for beneficial soil health practices. These may lead to improved water quality, water availability, and on-farm economic benefits. It also presents an opportunity for producers to market products grown using healthy soils practices. An additional option for soil health initiatives is the STAR Plus program. STAR Plus applies only to conservation districts and other eligible entities (like Tribes, grower associations, or co-ops) to provide technical support and incentive payments to individual producers.

The additional funding secured by CDA will go to the following Conservation Districts:

  • Longmont

  • Mosca Hooper

  • Mancos

  • Deer Trail

  • Eagle

  • Upper Arkansas

  • Delta

  • Spanish Peaks – Purgatoire

  • Colorado First

  • Shavano

  • Routt

  • Boulder Valley

  • West Otero Timpas

  • Haxton

  • Sedgwick

  • Burlington

  • Northeast Prowers

Additional eligible entities were selected during the review process:

  • Dolores Water Conservancy District

  • Colorado Corn

  • Audubon Society Conservation Ranching Program

These conservation districts and eligible entities were selected from applications submitted for the state stimulus soil health grants. A committee reviewed the submitted applications and provided recommendations to the Commissioner of Agriculture for approval. While the state stimulus funding will cover the first year of the STAR program, the additional funding will cover the costs of two more years.

Farmers and ranchers who operate in these districts can apply for the grant funding directly from the conservation districts. Each district will select 5-7 participants between now and the end of January. Interested producers should contact their local Conservation District about applying for funding. Producers working with the following are encouraged to apply: small grains, corn/sorghum, root vegetables, specialty row crops, orchards, hay, pasture, grazing land, and hemp.

Producers who live outside of the conservation districts listed above can still apply to participate in the STAR Program to receive a free soil health test.

The $3.4M in funds comes from several grants and federal and state agencies. The funding includes (figures are rounded):

  • $2.4M from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Conservation Innovation Grant program

  • $450K from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment and the Environmental Protection Agency

  • $298K from the Colorado Water Conservation Board Water Plan Grant

  • $265K from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Conservation Partners Program

  • $75K from the Gates Family Foundation

For questions about grant specifics, please contact [email protected].




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