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USDA grants $5M each to two AZ sustainable food efforts

The USDA has granted two Arizona groups almost $5 million each to support efforts to increase climate-smart agriculture.

One is led by the University of Arizona, and the other involves all three state universities.

The $4.9 million Climate-Smart Agriculture Best Management Practices Pilot Project will work to reduce pesticides and fertilizers, shrink the acreage tilled for planting, diversify cover crops, and promote the resting of pastures and rotational grazing.

It is led by the Arizona Association of Conservation Districts and involves the three state universities along with local farms, sustainable food nonprofits, the Organic Trade Association and the Indian Nations Conservation Alliance.

The $4.7 million Arizona Partnership for Climate-Smart Food Crops, led by UA, will focus on reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint and water use. The team comprises the University of Maryland and three Arizona nonprofits.

Both projects will draw upon the expertise of Native American farmers, and both will market climate-smart foods to ensure farmers and ranchers receive sustainable returns when using the new practices.

Nicholas Gerbis joined KJZZ’s Arizona Science Desk in 2016. A longtime science, health and technology journalist and editor, his extensive background in related nonprofit and science communications inform his reporting on Earth and space sciences, neuroscience and behavioral health, and bioscience/biotechnology.Apart from travel and three years in Delaware spent earning his master’s degree in physical geography (climatology), Gerbis has spent most of his life in Arizona. He also holds a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Arizona State University’s Cronkite School and a bachelor’s degree in geography (climatology/meteorology), also from ASU.Gerbis briefly “retired in reverse” and moved from Arizona to Wisconsin, where he taught science history and science-fiction film courses at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He is glad to be back in the Valley and enjoys contributing to KJZZ’s Untold Arizona series.During the COVID-19 pandemic, Gerbis focused almost solely on coronavirus-related stories and analysis. In addition to reporting on the course of the disease and related research, he delved into deeper questions, such as the impact of shutdowns on science and medicine, the roots of vaccine reluctance and the policies that exacerbated the virus’s impact, particularly on vulnerable populations.