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New program manager sees big opportunity in U of I-led sustainable ag grant

By John O’Connell

University of Idaho

MOSCOW, Idaho — As an avid home gardener who also tends to a residential fruit orchard and a few goats, Berkley Ridenhour raises much of her own food and is always trying new ways to improve her production efficiency.

Ridenhour will soon dramatically scale up her pursuits in sustainable agriculture as the new program manager with the University of Idaho-led Innovative Agriculture and Marketing Partnership (IAMP), formerly known as Climate Smart Commodities for Idaho.

IAMP is funded with a five-year, $55 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), representing the largest single grant in the university’s history.

It will seek to build markets and increase adoption of climate-smart production practices on more than 200 farms throughout the state. U of I and its funded partners — including the Idaho Association of Soil

Conservation Districts, the Nez Perce and Coeur d’Alene Tribes, The Nature Conservancy Agricultural Program in Idaho, Desert Mountain Grassfed Beef and Arrowleaf Consulting — hope to roll out the program this spring.

Producers who wish to receive notification when the application period opens should email

IAMP has a goal of preventing 31,000 to 70,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents from entering the atmosphere annually while offsetting emissions equivalent to the annual consumption of 6 million gallons of gasoline. The program offers producers of major Idaho commodities including barley, beef, chickpeas, hops, potatoes, sugar beets and wheat annual payments of $38 to $74 per acre for enacting designated sustainable agricultural practices, allowing producers to stack practices to increase incentives.

Covered practices will include cover cropping, cover cropping with livestock grazing, reduced or no-till, inter-seeding, precision fertilizer application and partial nitrogen fertilizer replacement with biochar, among others.

Ridenhour joined U of I on Nov. 16 and is based at the Moscow campus. Her duties include project management, administrative support, serving as a liaison with funded partners, assembling required quarterly reports for USDA, planning meetings and aiding in budget monitoring, among other responsibilities. Many details of the IAMP program are still being finalized.

Ridenhour appreciates that her job will give her the chance to do on-the-ground environmental work while providing direct support to farmers.

“It supports producers in trying new practices. It helps take out a little bit of the risk in trying something new that might be more climate smart,” Ridenhour said. “It can be hard to take that risk when it’s entirely your own investment and you’re not sure how it’s going to turn out. Hopefully the incentives are such that they alleviate some of that uncertainty or help farmers to try new practices more.”

Ridenhour holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Utah State University. She has relevant experience having worked for The Nature Conservancy for more than 12 years. Her first position with the nonprofit was as a conservation coordinator supporting a team involved in combating aquatic species in the Great Lakes.

From 2018 until recently, she worked for The Nature Conservancy’s Canada Program, participating in Indigenous-led conservation projects, as well as Natural Climate Solutions projects with an emphasis on agriculture. In that capacity, she helped implement several large grants.

Unlike other programs that pay producers for trying sustainable agricultural practices, IAMP also entails sophisticated monitoring to gauge the environmental benefits of various practices in Idaho’s climate, conditions and soils. Furthermore, one of the funded partners, Arrowleaf Consulting, will aid in efforts to identify and develop markets and supply chains to fetch a premium for sustainably raised commodities.

Sanford Eigenbrode, a university distinguished professor of entomology, and Erin Brooks, a professor of agricultural engineering, co-lead IAMP. Extension staff have been attending agricultural conferences and other events for producers to raise awareness about the grant and say interest is strong.