Natural resource conservation is paramount to the ongoing strength of our nation. Healthy soil contributes to agricultural productivity. Healthy forests clean our water and air. Vibrant waterways are critical for our health, for transportation and for trade. Investments into conservation spur job growth and community development, particularly in rural areas.

This is an uncertain time for USDA conservation activities. Congress has not yet passed a comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that would continue to invest in conservation efforts, while providing rural America with certainty regarding many other important programs.

As we continue urging Congress to provide a new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill, USDA this week took several new steps to strengthen conservation across the country.

We invested in innovation by awarding new grants under USDA’s Conservation Innovation Grants program. New technologies and tactics are constantly emerging that help producers and landowners care for the environment. These 33 new awards will help organizations across the country carry out advanced new conservation strategies and share them with producers. For example, several projects will investigate the benefits of cover crops, which could help producers grow more while mitigating the impacts of a changing climate.

These new project awards are part of more than 260 projects funded since 2009, including a special group of Conservation Innovation Grants to help agriculture adapt to drought.

We also invested this week in the future of renewable energy from wood products. USDA announced a partnership with industry to work toward additional wood-to-energy projects, while awarding more than $1 million in grants for five statewide teams that will further develop these efforts. This builds on past work that has resulted in more than 230 wood-to-energy projects created under the Obama Administration.