A collection of business, agriculture, grazing, conservation and government officials have combined to launch a market-based approach to reduce soil erosion and protect Northwest Missouri landscapes.

The Grand River Conference pilot project will seek to improve a watershed in the region and establish a model that can be multiplied across the Mississippi River basin. The groups’ ultimate goal is to impact 30 million acres in 30 years and demonstrate benefits for the environment, wildlife and renewable energy.

In an initial phase, approximately 200,000 acres are being strategically selected to implement alternative land use practices that will improve the Grand River.

The new practices for the project include converting highly erodible land to native prairie instead of row crops and instituting cover crop programs on agricultural land.

Participating landowners would receive payment for harvesting and selling native prairie and cover crop vegetation as biomass for renewable natural gas production.

The Grand River Conference was organized in May by St. Louis-based Roeslein Alternative Energy and hosted by Smithfield Foods at the latter company’s regional office in Princeton, Missouri.

Roeslein is involved in a large project to capture methane from hog manure at Smithfield’s nine north Missouri farms, converting it to renewable natural gas using anaerobic digestion systems.

The Smithfield Foundation — the company’s philanthropic arm — and the Environmental Defense Fund already have committed resources to convert 1,000 acres of highly erodible land to native prairie as part of the initiative.

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Ray Scherer can be reached at ray.scherer@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPScherer.

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