Leveraging Alternative Funding Mechanisms

Companies who are looking to launch projects that will help them achieve scope 3 targets must ask many questions right out of the gate: What types of interventions should we focus on?  What region do we start in first?  Who are the right partners?  How do we quantify the outcomes?  And finally – Who is going to pay for this? 

Certainly, alignment of upstream and downstream groups who share scope 3 emissions is a powerful tool for helping to spread out the cost of on the ground implementation of projects. But due to recent funding allocations from the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has emerged as another strong partner who can help to bring funds to the table to assist with farm and ranch level practice implementation.  

The USDA has been a long-time proponent of conservation-based practices on farms and ranches around the country and has provided funding through a multitude of programs. Although most of these programs receive funding regularly through Farm Bill reauthorizations, additional funding was included in the IRA in August of 2022. The IRA appropriated approximately $19.5 billion in new funds for agriculture conservation efforts and – more than 25% of those funds were allocated to the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), through which Alternative Funding Arrangement (AFA) cooperative agreements will help support place-based, farm-level interventions that can advance progress towards scope 3 targets.   

RCPP is not the only mechanism that can be deployed for launching an on-the-ground project. Additional programs include: 

> Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) On Farm Trials on both the national and state level 

> Conservation Implementation Strategy (CIS) funding pools in certain states, and  

> RCPP Classic, which operates differently than the RCPP AFA listed above. 

Your company’s goals, measurement and verification standards, budgets, and capacity are some of the items that should be considered when choosing a path forward in any of these funding opportunities.   

Over the past three years, AgSpire has been involved with the design and submission for projects that have helped our partners leverage more than $250 million dollars of funding to support voluntary, incentive-based sustainability projects on farms and ranches throughout the country. Contact us to learn more about these programs and how to incorporate them into on-farm programs.

About the Authors

VP, Business Development

As a Vice President of Business Development at AgSpire, a company he co-founded, Jared draws on his 25 years of on-the-ground experience to drive practical and natural solutions within agriculture.

Jared a farmer and rancher from Eastern South Dakota, with a diversified crop and livestock operation that focuses on cow calf production. His expertise has been further honed through his background in livestock genetics, seed sales, and business development. Jared has a degree in Animal Science from South Dakota State University and China Agricultural University in Beijing.

Technical Advisor, Regenerative Agriculture Systems

Austin grew up helping on the family century farm and now operates that farm with his uncle raising hogs, corn, and soybeans. Austin has seen the effects of incorporating conservation practices on his own farm and uses those experiences to help others incorporate practices on their operations. Prior to joining AgSpire, Austin worked as a Sustainability Agronomist working with producers across the country helping bring value to their operations through sustainable practices.

Austin holds a bachelor’s degree in Agronomy from Iowa State University. He is also a Certified Crop Advisor (CCA).

First Practices Implemented Under USDA Climate-Smart Commodities Programs

After the announcement of the Climate-Smart Commodity projects last year, we’ve entered an exciting new phase of this work: implementation. Following a successful first enrollment season, the AgSpire technical assistance team is now working with farmers and ranchers enrolled in our programs to select and implement new practices like cover cropping, reduced and no-tillage, perennial seedings, holistic grazing, and nutrient management – among others. Our team works with each enrolled producer to help identify the best options and practices for his or her operation and goals. This month, we’ve seen the first cover crops planted, grazing plans implemented, and soil samples pulled.

During the winter season, cover crops are a primary focus. Cover crops are plants grown to produce living “cover” on fallow ground between subsequent cash crops. This living cover provides so many benefits: erosion is reduced, soil health indicators are increased, water availability and infiltration are enhanced, weeds are suppressed, pest and disease cycles are broken, and biodiversity is increased.

Despite these manifold benefits, matching the right cover with the right field at the correct time can seem complicated and overwhelming when first starting to use cover crops in a rotation. Timing, winter moisture, soil type, equipment needs, and need for forage can all factor into if, when, and how to use cover crops. We strive to help farmers overcome these challenges, focusing on the core goals they are attempting to achieve through the practice, while experimenting, learning, and adapting to what works the best for their farm. 

A Deep Dive into Cover Crop Benefits 

Typical fallow periods in the upper Midwest and Great Plains – where our grant programs are currently focused – tend to range from October to late May. Close to six months of the year with nothing growing!  During fallow months, soil erosion and movement is so evident and common place that there is a colloquial term for it: “Snirt,” the combination of snow and dirt. In most cases topsoil from nearby fields is blown into ditches where it mixes with snow, leaving a pile of soil in the ditch in the spring once the snow melts. The topsoil that is left in the ditch is the highest fertility, most productive soils. Some estimates indicate that the loss of major nutrients in one inch of topsoil costs farmers roughly $688.40 per acre (NDSU Extensions, Crop and Pest Report).

Cover crops play a major role in combating this erosion, helping ensure that the healthiest soils are held in place and available for spring planting. The vibrant, green, living vegetation growing in a winter field means the soil is covered and protected from the impacts of wind and water, holding the topsoil in place. 

While this above-ground benefit is easy to see, much of the benefit that a cover crop offers is found beneath the ground, not immediately visible to us: 

> Water Retention: Living vegetation and expansive root systems increase water infiltration and absorption by creating pores and channels within the soil profile, granting water the opportunity to soak in, like a sponge, and reduce runoff over the soil surface, directly into drainage ditches and waterways. When water is absorbed, it is conserved, and utilized by plants and other terrestrial organisms.

> Biodiversity: Typical ecosystems of the upper Midwest evolved with around 10-30 species of grasses, broadleaves, and woody species of vegetation covering the landscape. Countless species of insects, and various forms of wildlife co-evolved to develop natural ecosystems that were highly diverse and intricate. By grazing the high nutrient, protein packed forage provided during usually lean winter months enables producers to mimic mother nature and harness the positive effects of a healthy soil and ecosystem.

> Carbon Capture: Plants use sunlight and carbon dioxide to make carbon-based molecules through photosynthesis. Much of the exudates produced by plants are utilized by microorganisms within the soil. Over time, a buildup of carbon-based, humic materials increases and are gradually built into soil organic matter. These natural systems make agricultural soils a vast “sink” for carbon sequestration and contribute positively to Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions and climate change mitigation. 

About the Author

Senior Conservation Agronomist

Derek has over 15 years of experience working with landowners and corporations to design, manage, and validate research trials, maximizing short- and long-term crop outputs. With a continued passion for conservation and the natural ecosystem, he is focused on the natural symbiosis organisms have with one another in the environment. Always eager to learn, he is continuously expanding his knowledge of soil health, chemistry, and pest disease management.

Derek holds a bachelor’s degree in Biology from South Dakota State University and a master’s degree in Agronomy from Iowa State University. He is also a Certified Crop Advisor and Technical Service Provider through NRCS.

AgSpire Launches The SustainAg Network

AgSpire unveiled our latest initiative – The SustainAg Network – which connects farmers and ranchers who are interested in conservation, sustainability, and regenerative practices with the programs and market opportunities that incentivize and reward those positive practices.

“As the implementing partner on multiple USDA Climate-Smart Commodity Grants and other grants, and with clients leading the way in launching on-the-ground sustainability projects, AgSpire is uniquely positioned to bring opportunities to producers and partner with them to deliver meaningful results for their operations and the environment,” said AgSpire CEO, Aline DeLucia.

AgSpire offers holistic, end-to-end sustainability services, to drive real progress on the land through implementation of regenerative agriculture practices. With this formalized network of producers, we will be able to accelerate adoption of practices, matching interested farmers and ranchers with opportunities that advance sustainability goals for our partners.

Enabling On-the-Ground Impact

“The producers we’ve met with are eager to invest in their land, improve their natural resources, and implement new and better management practices. The programs offered within The SustainAg Network help producers do just that – giving them the resources and technical assistance needed to succeed,” said Ryan Eichler, Director of Producer Programs at AgSpire.

In his capacity at AgSpire, Ryan is responsible for growing the reach of the network. He kicked off this effort last week at the 100th annual meeting of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, meeting with ranchers around the region. With our soft launch, more than 50 farmers and ranchers in the Northern Great Plains have already indicated their interest to join The SustainAg Network. Our team of advisors will work with those producers to learn more about their operations, providing guidance on the programs they could qualify for and that would be most beneficial on the ground.

Realizing Real Outcomes

Our initial programs are heavily focused on grazing systems, forage, specialty oilseeds, and climate-smart corn in the Great Plains and Midwest, and are expected to impact over four-million acres over the next five years. Our commitment to thoughtful program design, MMRV, and successful on-the-ground implementation results in measurable and claimable environmental outcomes, including captured and stored carbon, improved water usage and quality, enhanced biodiversity, and healthier soils.

“With the interest that The SustainAg Network has garnered through this initial launch, we are well on our way toward meeting our first-year enrollment targets for our program offerings – with many more producers looking for additional opportunities and programs to participate in,” Ryan continued.

To learn more about The SustainAg Network, our services, and how to partner with our network:

USDA Approves Vaccine for Honeybees

by Derek Ver Helst

Bee health is getting the buzz it deserves with a new vaccine to fight American foulbrood, a fatal bacterial disease that is decimating bee populations across the country. The first-ever USDA approved vaccine for insects, along with improved, holistic ecosystem management practices, are both showing promise for protecting and rebuilding the population of these important pollinators. 

The Critical Role of Bees 

Bees play a critical role for the health of ecosystems around the world – including the health and security of our food systems. As honeybees consume pollen and nectar, they pollinate about a third of the world’s food crops, allowing them to grow and flower. In addition to natural occurrences, beekeepers often lease their hives and colonies to farmers to assist in annual pollinations of crops like almonds, pears, cherries, and apples, among others.  

However, in recent years, bee populations have decreased at alarming rates, posing a great threat to our natural and agricultural systems. Many factors have contributed to this crisis, including parasites, habitat loss, exposure to pesticides, climate change, and disease. 

A First-Of-Its-Kind Vaccine 

One such disease is American foulbrood (AFB), a fatal bacterial disease affecting honeybee colonies around the world. Infection can severely weaken even a healthy and strong colony, leading to its complete collapse. Once many of the brood have died and the colony is collapsing, the hive will produce a foul odor, contributing to the name of the disease. 

Previously, the only way to manage AFB was to destroy infected colonies and materials – making the new USDA-approved vaccine a much-needed innovation for supporting bee health and productivity. The vaccine is feed to the queen bee in an infused sugar mixture. She then passes the immunity down to her offspring, and over time, immunity spreads throughout the entire colony. 

Ecosystem Management for Pollinator Health 

While it is a revolutionary innovation, the vaccine is not a magic bullet for protecting bees, as it addresses only one cause of bee population decline. Many other natural and anthropogenic factors have contributed to the recent decline of bee populations. Understanding these factors and addressing the interaction of species in an environment is important to overall sustainability, biodiversity, and longevity goals. 

By utilizing the principles of regenerative agriculture, farmers and ranchers are promoting bee health with nature-based solutions. For example, flowering cover crops and pollinator-friendly buffer plantings support pollinators, while also agronomically benefiting agricultural crops. Similarly, improved soil health practices can lead to reduced pesticide use, which protects these beneficial insects.  

With these improved management practices, agriculture is specially positioned to help mitigate and reverse environmental degradation, having a profound and positive impact – not just on bees, but on the ecosystem as a whole. 

Learn More and Next Steps 

Farmers, NGOs, government partners, and companies worldwide are investing in the natural solutions that agriculture offers for pollinator health. 

Certifications: Brands are working toward certifications like Bee Better Certified or Bee Friendly Farming Certified, while other companies have made significant commitments to support and source from bee-friendly farms. See how Blue Diamond and KIND are supporting pollinators.

Improved Practices: Research suggests that pollinator-friendly plantings yield agronomic, economic, and environmental benefits on farms. Learn more about agriculture’s role in pollinator conservation and ecosystem service delivery.

AgSpire works across the agriculture value chain to develop and implement sustainable agriculture projects that promote pollinator health, among other ecosystem benefits like soil health, carbon capture, and water conservation. Contact Us to visit with our landowner advisory team and learn more about supporting bee health.

About the Author

Senior Conservation Agronomist

Derek has over 15 years of experience working with landowners and corporations to design, manage, and validate research trials, maximizing short- and long-term crop outputs. With a continued passion for conservation and the natural ecosystem, he is focused on the natural symbiosis organisms have with one another in the environment. Always eager to learn, he is continuously expanding his knowledge of soil health, chemistry, and pest disease management.

Derek holds a bachelor’s degree in Biology from South Dakota State University and a master’s degree in Agronomy from Iowa State University. He is also a Certified Crop Advisor and Technical Service Provider through NRCS.

2022 In Review: Scaling Regenerative Agriculture as We Grow

2022 was a year of growth at AgSpire.

Since our founding two years ago, our team has diligently worked to expand and amplify positive land use practices. We believe that agriculture-based solutions and land stewardship hold significant potential for the health of our planet. Soil health, water and air quality, biodiversity, wildlife and pollinator habitat, and bio sequestration of carbon are just a few of the many outcomes of positive land use practices resulting in shared societal benefits.

In 2022, we were able to make huge strides in seeing our approach take root and our impact grow. As our client and project portfolio grew, we’ve helped implement positive land use practices on a total of 500,000 acres. With personalized assistance to producers and a deep knowledge of public and private incentive programs, we are able to see successful implementation.

AgSpire's Year in Review: expanding our reach, new projects, and new partners.

Building Our Capacity

One of our biggest priorities in 2022 was to grow our internal capacity, building a team that is rooted in the agriculture community and committed to positive land use changes. The AgSpire team grew from two at the beginning of 2022, to eight at the end of the year – with additional team members joining us in the new year.

We welcomed our first CEO in June. Aline DeLucia comes to AgSpire with diverse experiences in the agriculture industry – from nutrition and animal science to business management and stakeholder engagement – providing well-rounded and pragmatic leadership for AgSpire and our clients.

Joining the business development, operations, and management functions are Julia Andrus as Director of Marketing & Communications and Christian Lovell as a Program Manager. They join our AgSpire veterans Jared Knock and Vivian Georgalas in expanding AgSpire’s reach and ability to serve our clients’ sustainability needs.

We also added to our technical expertise, welcoming Dale Strickler, Derek Ver Helst, and Matthew Delbar. Each brings deep understanding and experience in conservation, grazing and crop management, and regenerative agriculture implementation.

AgSpire's team grew in 2022.

Forging New Partnerships

 AgSpire is proud to partner with organizations across the agriculture industry to build resilience into our agriculture and food systems.

This year, we were selected as a project partner for NGOs, universities, businesses, and other service providers under multiple USDA-funded Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities projects. Through these projects, AgSpire will impact an estimated 4.3 million acres over the next 5 years and will empower farmers and ranchers to make their operations more resilient, diversified, and holistically managed.

Expanding Our Advisory Services

Our clients have sustainability goals – and we provide sustainability strategy development, expertise in conservation practice implementation, and knowledge of public and private incentive programs to drive results to meet those goals.

In 2022, we launched new projects with new and existing clients, developing and testing strategies that produce real results. We work with our clients to conceptualize nature-based solutions, providing direction to advance their sustainability goals. Our technical landowner advisors then work directly with producers to successfully implement that strategy and achieve quantifiable outcomes for the land.

Looking back on the year, we are thankful for our clients and partners who have trusted us to advance sustainability and steward the land. The AgSpire team wishes you a Happy New Year – and we look froward to continuing to scale regenerative agriculture in 2023.

Amplifying Positive Land Use Practices through Partnerships

USDA announces Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities projects

(BROOKINGS, SD, Wednesday, September 14, 2022) AgSpire, an organization that amplifies the implementation of positive land use practices through handson, customized plans with farmers and
ranchers, has been named project partner on multiple USDA Partnerships for ClimateSmart Commodities projects. As a part of these projects, AgSpire will continue their mission to provide customized solutions to farmers, ranchers, and landowners, and empower them to help make their operations more resilient, diversified, and holistically managed through information and expertise.

“Today’s announcement shows USDA’s commitment to advancing adoption and implementation of climatesmart practices, and we are thrilled to be part of that journey. AgSpire will bring its expertise in
conservation practice implementation to assist producers with adoption of practices that can create positive land use outcomes. Collaborations and partnerships are key to achieving the ultimate goal of creating shared societal benefits through the land for generations to come,” said Aline DeLucia, CEO of AgSpire.

With these projects, AgSpire will have the opportunity to touch over 4.3 million acres through working directly with producers to create tailored management plans.  Powered by landowner advisors with
regional knowledge and expertise, AgSpire is dedicated to supporting producers as they work toward impactful outcomes that begin with changes on the land, and these projects will continue that mission.

For more information on the USDA Partnerships for ClimateSmart Commodities, please visit https://www.usda.gov/climatesolutions/climatesmartcommodities.

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