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Soil & Water districts awarded $2.3 million

Feb. 10—INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana State Department of Agriculture and the State Soil Conservation Board awarded $2,313,287 in matching grant funds to 26 projects within soil and water conservation districts and soil health organizations through the Clean Water Indiana program.

"Providing farmers and landowners with tools and funding to keep our Indiana waterways clean and their soil structure healthy is key to keeping Indiana agriculture thriving," Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development, said. "This funding will allow 48 organizations across 26 projects to improve their local water systems, keep their soil healthy and keep their communities thriving. Last year's increase in Clean Water Indiana funding from the general assembly is already making a lasting impact."

The Clean Water Indiana program is administered by the state's soil conservation board. The program, led by the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, provides financial assistance to landowners and conservation groups that are working to reduce runoff from non-point sources of water pollution, whether it's on agricultural land, urban areas or eroding streambanks.

Once received, districts can use the funds to partner with other counties or address specific needs within their jurisdiction. Some examples include participating in a cost share program, hiring staff, providing technical assistance, implementing cover crop incentive programs or increasing watershed capacity.

Gene Schmidt is chair of the State Soil Conservation Board and is looking forward to seeing the work done on the grassroots level by the soil and water districts. The Clean Water Indiana Grants Committee is Ray Chattin, Brad Dawson and Jane Hardisty.

Clean Water Indiana is managed by ISDA's Division of Soil Conservation and funded by a portion of the state's cigarette tax. Projects can be up to three years in length and grantees could apply for any dollar amount that was necessary to complete the project. Funded projects ranged from $10,000 to $300,000. In addition to CWI funds, each grantee is required to produce a match for their project, which can be cash or in-kind. Projects requesting staffing were required to have a 25% match for that component, while all other project areas required a 50% match. Many SWCDs will target producers not currently served by other conservation programs.

Below is a partial the list of the awardees, their project titles and overviews.

Decatur, Franklin and Ripley County SWCDs — $15,750

Keep the Lights On Pollinators: Fireflies, Hummingbirds, Butterflies Oh My! CWI funds are being used to form a partnership between the Decatur, Franklin and Ripley SWCDs by installing pollinator habitats, replacing invasive shrubs in the community and educating the public on the importance of native pollinator habitats. Through the grant, the districts will provide native pollinator seed to landowners to convert part of their ground to native plant gardens.

Additionally, the project will work to replace invasive shrubs on residential property. Homeowners can remove an invasive shrub and replace it with a native pollinator friendly shrub by working with a local nursery. The landowner will be reimbursed for their native shrub by the project. This will help reach small-scale homeowners that might not have the land to install a traditional pollinator habitat.

The Nature Conservancy — $82,500

Indiana Cover Crop Premium Discount Project- Over 85% of cropland acres carry crop insurance, and linking resilient practices, like cover crops, to crop insurance has the potential to catalyze conservation adoption and keep Indiana as the epicenter of soil health. This project mirrors statewide efforts previously established in both Illinois and Iowa, and it provides eligible participants a $5/acre premium discount on the following year's crop insurance invoice for every acre of cover crop enrolled and verified in the program.

Farmers participating in the project will be awarded a $5/acre insurance premium discount from USDA-RMA through normal crop insurance processes. Only acres in cover crops (absent other state or federally incentivized cover crops) will be eligible for the premium discount. Applications reviewed and confirmed by ISDA will be forwarded to the USDA-RMA for processing premium discounts on crop insurance premium invoices for their cash crop. Being a first-time cover crop user is not a requirement but will be given priority for funding. The 2024-2025 Cover Crop Premium Reduction Program will support 30,000 acres of cover crops.

Union and Fayette County SWCDs — $75,000

Cover Crop and Invasive Incentive Program- Union and Fayette County SWCD are partnering on the Cover Crop and Invasive Incentive Program. This program will provide funding to private landowners and parks to start or continue practicing the planting of cover crops and/or removal of invasive plant species and the reintroduction of native plants.

The program provides funds for cover crops to both counties at $12,500 per year and invasive species plant removal at $12,500 per year.

The first portion of invasive funding will go to the parks for tools and invasive plant removal. The second portion will be available to landowners in cash match for removal of invasive species plants on private land. SICIM will be providing a technician for invasive species reports and assistance with public educational programs. Union and Fayette County SWCD will be hosting educational events on identification and removal of invasive plant species including why removal of invasive species is beneficial to water, soil and natural habitats.

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