On November 7, 2023, it was announced that the Small Producers Initiative (SPI) at Texas State University had received a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2501 Program, along with a $400,000 cooperative agreement with USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) in support of regenerative agriculture outreach initiatives.
The awards will allow SPI to continue to provide small, urban, minority and veteran farmers and ranchers with regenerative ranching and soil health demonstrations on farms and ranches throughout Texas.
The grants will also enable SPI to provide beekeeping training, financial literacy training and assist NRCS with engaging new and small farmers.
Regenerative agriculture involves the use of practices and principles that improve soil health and benefit the surrounding ecosystem. Examples of regenerative agriculture practices include no tillage, crop rotation, the use of cover crops and organic matter in lieu of chemical fertilizers.
The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization predicts 60 global harvests are left at the current rate of conventional agriculture’s soil degradation.
Regenerative agriculture can reverse this trend, building upon and using the ecosystem services that developed farm soils, made them fertile and will keep them growing.
The result is a soil metaorganism, teeming with life, cycling nutrients, and sequestering carbon and water. This process reduces crop loss to droughts and increases net revenue, all while the sequestration of carbon and water reduces atmospheric heat-trapping gases.
SPI’s grant partners include Capital Farm Credit, Two Hives Honey, the National Audubon Society and Holistic Management International. Another grant partner, Understanding Ag LLC, was founded by Gabe Brown, one of the pioneers of the current regenerative agriculture movement.
In 2022, SPI also received a $550,000 grant from the USDA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program to provide funding to increase the equitable and inclusive capacity of Texas beginning farmer and rancher programming.
The grant enabled SPI to train and advise Texas beginning farmers in regenerative agriculture methods and assist these farmers with accessing capital and building profitable agricultural businesses.
SPI began in 2015 with a 30-person stakeholder listening session that included farmers, representatives from USDA agencies, Texas Department of Agriculture, National Center for Appropriate Technology and culinary chefs. Since that initial meeting, SPI has received more than $4 million in federal funding to provide small farmers and ranchers in Texas with research, extension and education services.
These funds have supported more than 2000 farmers with educational opportunities through on-farm demonstrations, webinars, workshops and SPI’s multitrack, multitopic Southern Family Farmers and Food Systems Conference, the largest non-land grant university supported farmer conference in the state. In 2023, the conference hosted more than 500 attendees, including faculty and staff from Alcorn State University and Tuskegee University.
Past speakers have included Ray Archuleta, a certified professional soil scientist with more than 30 years’ experience with the Natural Resources Conservation Service; Lyla June, indigenous food systems activist and scholar; Mark Shepard, CEO of Forest Agriculture Enterprises LLC and founder of Restoration Agriculture Development LLC; and Will Harris, who has successfully transitioned White Oak Pastures to pre-industrialized cattle ranching based on regenerative agriculture practices and now employs a staff or more than 155.
SPI is the largest non-land grant program in Texas that supports small farms and ranches with professional development and extension services, including training in financial literacy, regenerative agriculture, soil and water conservation.
SPI is also the administrative unit for the Soil, Plant and Animal Health Research Continuum Lab (SPAHRC Lab) at Texas State. This lab was developed to be both a regenerative agriculture research lab to connect soil health to plan and animal health and a public testing facility for soils, and plant and animal tissues.
SPAHRC Lab includes regenerative agriculture tests for organic nutrients, soil biological activity and water release curves, which are not typical of a conventional laboratory. SPARHC Lab will open to the public in the spring of 2024.
Other SPI research includes small farm assessments which specializes in social research focused on the barriers and bridges to success for small and medium farms.
Photo of agriculture students courtesy of Texas State University.