The Palouse Conservation District in Pullman recently received a $2.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help farmers in dryland cropping regions develop practices to improve soil health.

The grant is part of a $25 million nationwide grant for 18 new projects aimed at soil health and conservation.

Jennifer Boie, director of the Palouse Conservation District, said her group will be partnering with a number of local, state and federal agencies and districts to set up on-farm trials with local farmers focused on improving soil health.

“This would be encouraging the use of cover cropping, interseeding (which means using a mixture of seed for greater diversity within the field) and ... using livestock on cover crop ground the season when you’re not growing the crop to harvest,” Boie said.

“The goal would be to keep the (farm ground) covered all the time.”

That prevents erosion, she added, “and by keeping plants on the soil you’re enriching the soil life. Soil likes having growing roots. It helps retain nutrients for the following crop, helps retain water, takes care of the entire soil ecosystem and focuses on the soil being a living thing.”

The project boundaries take in all the dryland cropping areas in eastern Washington and north central Idaho, including Latah and Nez Perce counties, she added.

The contract for the project begins in January and will run through 2026. It also dovetails with other conservation efforts in the area regarding water quality, soil health and habitat. Boie said almost $16 million focused on conservation of natural resources is expected to flow into the area in the next five years.

Amie Miller, acting state conservationist in Idaho for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said farmers, ranchers and forest landowners play a crucial role in charting the course toward a climate-smart future.

“On-farm trials enable partners to work with producers to test and adopt new climate-smart systems on their operations that support agricultural production and conserve natural resources, while also building climate resilience.”

Hedberg may be contacted at kathyhedberg@gmail.com or (208) 983-2326.