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Farmers in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin to get Support for Planting Tree Crops

Farmers who plant productive trees between row crops to diversify yields, reduce erosion, protect wildlife habitat, and store carbon have a new source of potential support, thanks to funding made available by The Nature Conservancy’s Natural Climate Solutions Accelerator Program and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. This week $250,000 was awarded to the Savanna Institute, who will in turn provide support to participating farmers to plant tree crops on their land in a system called “alley cropping.” The Accelerator Program is funded through a generous grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The Savanna Institute, a nonprofit based in Wisconsin and Illinois, received the largest grant in this round of Accelerator Program grants.

The Savanna Institute is working to help farmers and farmland managers accelerate “alley cropping” in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Alley cropping is the practice of planting trees with widely-spaced rows of companion crops. In addition to increasing carbon storage by planting trees, alley cropping can increase land use efficiency by 40 and 200%, diversify farm income, improve soil retention, and provide wildlife habitat. The Savanna Institute and its partners will help tree farmers, crop farmers, landowners, and financial backers pull together their projects into an investment product to attract more support. It will also provide monitoring services to evaluate environmental and agricultural performance.

The Savanna Institute was one of five projects nationally that won $850,000 worth of funding from The Nature Conservancy’s Natural Climate Solutions (NCS) Accelerator Grant Program, a competitive grant process. Winners were picked by a steering committee who targeted funding to innovative projects that will accelerate restoration of agricultural areas, forests, and coastal wetlands to improve carbon storage.

“We are really looking forward to working with farmers across the Midwest to help put trees to work to enhance farm profitability, reduce erosion, improve wildlife habitat, and help store carbon,” said Keefe Keeley from the Savanna Institute. “Our research shows at least 23% of all Midwestern farmland would be more profitable with rows of trees in it, compared to corn and soybean monocultures. If we gradually expand alley cropping to hit that target acreage over the next 30 years, farmers will take 1.07 gigatons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Even better, they’ll be putting that carbon to productive use in growing tree crops and building soil health. And farmers can do it, while becoming more profitable through alley cropping..”

In 2018 a study on the potential of Natural Climate Solutions in the United States estimates that nature-based solutions could remove an additional 20 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, greater than the combined carbon emissions from all cars and trucks on the road in the United States.

Eriks Brolis, manager for the NCS Accelerator, noted that there has been strong and growing interest in this grant program. A third request for proposals was announced recently. The Program received 70 proposals seeking a total of $5.8 million during the second request for proposals.

Farmers, landowners, and investors interested in alley cropping can contact the Savanna Institute directly at 608-448-6432, partnerships@savannainstitute.org.