Working Lands

USDA Invests in Audubon Arkansas’s Work with Minority Farmers

Audubon Arkansas awarded a USDA grant to put working lands to work for birds and people.

A farmer's Switchgrass crop is coming up. Photo: Audubon Arkansas

Little Rock, Sept. 29, 2016 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that Audubon Arkansas’s Native Agriculture to InVigorate Ecosystems (NATIVE) Project has been selected as a grant recipient from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The $142,182 investment comes through the USDA’s Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program, also known as the 2501 Program and administered by USDA's Office of Advocacy and Outreach (OAO).

Demand for native prairie plant seeds by conservation organizations and others working to restore habitat for birds, pollinators, and other wildlife continues to grow in the state. Audubon Arkansas’s NATIVE Project helps farmers meet that demand plus adapt to climate change by assisting them with production of a climate change-resistant specialty crop that promotes on- farm biodiversity. “Native warm season grasses and pollinator-friendly forbs are economical, environmentally sustainable, alternative cash-crops able to withstand drought and other severe weather events made worse by climate change,” says Audubon Arkansas’s Field Projects Coordinator Jonathan Young. “Audubon’s work over the past six years with farmers in the Delta to grow four species of prairie grasses has already paid off for the farmers in terms of seed sales and on-farm conservation benefits.”

Audubon will build upon its expertise in conservation practices and experience with historically underserved producers in the Delta to begin  native wildflower seed production while expanding grass seed production. Once this acreage is in full production, Audubon predicts that producers can harvest 10,000 pounds of seed annually for sale in commercial and consumer markets, while reaping soil, water, and wildlife benefits.

The Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission will work with Audubon on collecting starter seeds from prairie remnants. Further technical assistance and market access will be provided by Roundstone Native Seed, LLC, a native plant production company in Upton, KY, with expertise in native seed production and distribution. Producers will have the option to form a business partnership with Roundstone that will open new national markets to small-scale Arkansas farmers.

"USDA was created to be 'The People's Department,' and in the past eight years we have made tremendous progress in correcting past mistakes and creating a more inclusive culture within our organization. Part of that legacy includes supporting farmers and ranchers with diverse backgrounds and experience levels," said Vilsack. "The grants announced today will be leveraged by local partners and help bring traditionally underserved people into farming, as well as veterans who want to return home to rural areas."

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