Two projects proposed by University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture researchers have received nearly $685,000 in funding in the most recent round of USDA Conservation Innovation Grants.

Announced on April 4, the prestigious grants are for projects geared toward innovative adaptations producers can make in response to drought.

UTIA awardees included Justin Rhinehart, an assistant professor and beef cattle specialist in the Department of Animal Science, and Brian Leib, an associate professor and irrigation specialist in the Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science.

Rhinehart will lead a three-state effort to examine and deliver a comprehensive and transformative approach to forage production to growers across the region. Cooperating with colleagues from the University of Kentucky and the University of Arkansas, Rhinehart expects the effort to impact producers’ ability to respond to drought over the long-term.

“Short-term drought response is important,” Rhinehart said, “But innovation in forage production systems is essential to ensure long-term sustainability and profitability.

“In our region, particularly Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas, we have the fundamental problem that our pastures are based primarily on cool-season perennial forages. These are normally challenged during summer months when they become semi-dormant.”

Rhinehart goes on to explain that during periods of long-term drought, the challenge to these grasses is compounded when forages with poor drought-tolerance are repeatedly established following successive drought cycles.