An Iowa State University research team is a partner on an $80 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which will fund a project meant to spur more farmers to plant cover crops and perennial prairie grass through both direct payments and a demonstration of how harvested winter-hearty crops and grass can be processed into renewable natural gas.

“My vision is that when we drive around Iowa in December, we don’t see a single bare field,” said Lisa Schulte Moore, a professor of natural resource ecology and management at Iowa State.

The five-year grant is among the $2.8 billion in federal investments in 70 projects announced this month as part of the USDA’s Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program. The grant builds on the work of the Consortium for Cultivating Human and Naturally reGenerative Enterprises (C-CHANGE), founded in 2018 as an ISU Presidential Interdisciplinary Research Initiative.

According to a news release, the initiative expanded in 2020 to a multi-institutional project led by Schulte Moore with a five-year, $10 million grant from the USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture. Iowa State will receive roughly $10 million from the new grant and is one of 14 partners involved in the project, which is called Horizon II and is led by Roeslein Alternative Energy, a St. Louis-based company that is also an industry partner on C-CHANGE.