Lincoln University of Missouri Awarded $1.65 Million Grant for Innovations in Climate-Smart Agriculture Project

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Dr. Tunsisa Hurisso, an assistant professor of soil science at Lincoln University of Missouri, was awarded $1.65 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for his project on “Evaluating Climate Resilient Alternative Winter-Feeding Strategy for Improved Livestock Productivity by Grazing in a Solar Corridor Cropping System.” This grant is part of the USDA’s Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program, which has allocated $40 million to fund 31 new projects aimed at developing innovative approaches to climate-smart agriculture.

Dr. Hurisso’s project seeks to develop a new sustainable agricultural production system — that not only maximizes land use, improves soil health, promotes biodiversity, and mitigates climate change — but also will potentially produce healthier livestock. By using the Solar Corridor Cropping System (SCCS), the project aims to examine whether a high-energy grain crop like grain sorghum and high-protein forage crops can be grown together for grazing in the late fall and winter while meeting the livestock energy and protein demand. The proposed year-round grazing system can help reduce expenses associated with machinery, grain, hay, forage harvest and storage and labor, making entry into livestock farming more accessible for all farmers, especially those who lack access to an affordable source of credit.

“This new system can potentially open up doors for everyone, especially for limited-resource farmers,” stated Dr. Hurisso.

The current agriculture system faces several challenges, including increasing pressures from climate change, soil erosion and biodiversity loss, according to Dr. Hurisso. Farmers also strive to meet the rising demand of higher quality food, invest in farm productivity and stay economically resilient. While large-scale farmers may be able to afford to invest in the current seasonal agricultural system, smallholders — such as beginning, minority, veteran, women and young farmers — struggle due to the large financial investment required in machinery, storage and labor. However, the proposed year-round SCCS system eliminates the need for these investments, making it available to all farmers.

“The production system we’re proposing has multiple benefits in addition to providing a healthy and balanced diet to the animals,” said Dr. Hurisso. “It has so many other advantages.”

The concept of SCCS involves planting a high-energy grain (sorghum) crop in corridors with wider row spacing and a high-protein forage crop(s) between the rows. This approach provides a food source year-round for the livestock and allows the plants to use more than 90% of the available solar energy, resulting in greater production and increased crop yields. This novel intercropping method can also provide grazing livestock with a more balanced and nutritious diet, which can lead to healthier animals and higher-quality animal products.

Other benefits of Dr. Hurisso’s project address environmental and agriculture challenges including prevention of soil erosion, improvement of soil health and increased biodiversity, which provides a habitat for wildlife and increases microbial activity. Additionally, SCCS can help mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. To achieve this, Dr. Hurisso and his team will establish two experimental plots at two sites for data collection. One of these sites will be a certified organic research and demonstration farm at Lincoln University (LU) Alan T. Busby Farm, and the other site will be the Bradford Research Farm, which is a non-organically managed research and demonstration farm of University of Missouri (MU). Additionally, the project will be expanded to include three locations within the MU Agricultural Experimental Station, which will serve as demonstrations. The project team will examine the forage yield and forage nutritional quality, soil carbon sequestration, soil health impact and profitability of the proposed alternative winter-feeding strategy under both organic and non-organic settings.

This project will include three experienced and established producers, two underserved producers and one beginning producer – for a total of six livestock cooperator producers. The veteran producers will mentor the less experienced, beginning producers, and use their cooperator producer sites as venues for peer-to-peer learning. The project co-investigators include experts from the University of Missouri and Lincoln University, and the project team members will develop short videos and participate in podcasts and national professional meetings, such as the American Society of Agronomy and the Soil and Water Conservation Society, to present the results of their findings. Additionally, two graduate students and a post-doctorate student will be recruited and trained for the project along with a research specialist.

USDA’s Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program brings together partners to develop innovative approaches to climate-smart agriculture emphasizing the adoption and implementation of climate-smart practices, including nutrient management, which helps underserved producers manage nutrients and soil amendments to maximize their economic benefit while minimizing their environmental impact.

“Addressing climate change is a tremendous challenge, but agriculture plays an important role, and we’re grateful for our many partners who are helping us confront the challenge head-on. These new projects and agreements are working to mitigate climate change, conserve and protect our water, enhance soil health and create economic opportunities for producers,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “We’re empowering our partners to develop new tools, technologies and strategies to support next-generation conservation efforts on working lands and develop cost-effective solutions to resource challenges.”

For more information on Lincoln University’s project, please contact Dr. Tunsisa Hurisso at