HomeNewsNew grants support collaborative work on agricultural climate solutions

New grants support collaborative work on agricultural climate solutions

This past fall, the Institute on the Environment set out to support the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced by Minnesota’s agriculture, forestry, and other land use sector (AFOLU) with a virtual, five-part Agricultural Climate Solutions Workshop. The unique format of the workshop promoted collaboration amongst a diverse group of stakeholders and IonE affiliates, from farmers to NGO and government representatives to scholars from multiple disciplines.

“The workshop was an experiment to catalyze experts toward a shared understanding of the barriers [to reducing GHG in the AFOLU sector] and to collaboratively explore solutions,” says Melissa Kenney, IonE’s Director of Research Knowledge Initiatives. 

The workshop facilitated discussions on knowledge gaps, policy solutions, and market strategies before supporting participants as they self-organized to develop collaborative projects that will help move the dial on GHG emissions. Workshop participants then voted on the top 11 projects to support, and the teams behind them submitted applications for seed funding grants. Along with addressing the reduction of GHG emissions, participants were tasked with forming proposals that integrate or directly address diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice in the agricultural sector. With the support of the McKnight Foundation, IonE has now awarded a total of $100,000 in grant funding to three standouts in the field of worthy proposals. [Read a summary report of the workshop.]

It’s an important step toward creating solutions to a complex problem. “This workshop highlighted barriers keeping us from reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the agricultural sector, and our grants will help move barriers out of the way,” says IonE director Jessica Hellmann. 

One of the winning projects aims to improve access to slaughter and processing facilities by Native farmers and small- and medium-sized pasture-based livestock producers. Doing so will help to facilitate business relationships and ultimately increase the supply of climate-smart, pasture-produced meats. Led by Kathy Draeger (IonE Fellow; U of M Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDP)), the team includes Shirley Nordrum (UMN Extension and tribal liaison), Marie Donahue (UMN Extension, RSDP), Wayne Martin (UMN Extension, Alternative Livestock Specialist), Swan Ray (UMN Extension, RSDP), Hannah Bernhardt (Medicine Creek Farm), and Eric Lonsdorf (IonE). Together, they’ll seek to align the needs of livestock operators with existing slaughter and processing facilities via one-on-one conversations and the creation of an interview protocol for slaughter and processing facilities to follow. 

Because GHG reporting and data needs are complex and have not been cohesively established yet, another winning proposal aims to catalog and identify progress or gaps across the many GHG-reduction qualification efforts in Minnesota. The team will then develop state recommendations for the comprehensive evaluation and presentation of GHG-reduction strategies. Led by Jessica Gutknecht ( IonE Associate; UMN Department of Soil, Water, and Climate; Forever Green Initiative), the team includes Joel Tallaksen (UMN – West Central Research and Outreach Center), George Boody (SoilCarbon, LLC; Senior Fellow, Endowed Chair in Agricultural Systems, Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture; Retired from Land Stewardship Project), Peter Ciborowski (Minnesota Pollution Control Agency), Jennifer Schmitt (IonE), Eric Lonsdorf (IonE), and Colin Cureton (Forever Green Initiative). Together, they’ll organize and host a two-track, online workshop and synthesis session with representatives from multiple sectors and cultural groups before facilitating the production of two white papers outlining the next steps in achieving reduced GHG emissions. 

The third winning project proposes a feasibility study to analyze the policy and financial landscapes for electrolysis-based green hydrogen and ammonia. The team is made up of project leader Fritz Ebinger (Clean Energy Research Teams (CERTs), UMN Extension, RSDP), Mike Reese (Renewable Energy, UMN – West Central Research & Outreach Center), Shannon Stassen (CERTs, UMN Extension, RSDP), Harold Stanislawski (Agricultural Utilization Research Institute), and Rod Larkins (Agricultural Utilization Research Institute). Together, they’ll outline the most geographically and financially viable scenarios for green hydrogen and ammonia facilities with an aim of understanding whether this is a worthwhile agribusiness opportunity for farmers and their communities. This includes an analysis of the areas where anhydrous ammonia and urea are used in Minnesota, as well as available sources of clean electric generation, transmission capacity, and proximity to water.

“I’m so grateful to the participants of the workshop and impressed with their wisdom and ambition,” says Hellmann. “We have so much work to do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the agricultural sector, but the ideas and relationships coming out of the workshop show that we’re ready to take action. 

Grace Abifarin is an IonE Communications Assistant and a junior at UMN pursuing majors in Marketing and Supply Chain and Operations Management with a minor in Leadership.

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