Conservation Innovation Grants

Important Update:

Please note that the Grassroots Guide has not yet been updated to reflect changes made by the 2018 Farm Bill, which was passed and signed into law in December 2018. We are in the process of updating the Guide and expect to publish an updated version in the spring of 2019. In the meantime, please use this guide for basic information about programs and important resources and links for more information, but check with USDA for any relevant program changes made by the 2018 Farm Bill. Also, check out our blog series covering highlights from the new farm bill. 

Promoting innovative and science-based conservation solutions that benefit farmers and the environment 

Conservation Innovation Grants (CIGs) support the development and testing of promising new conservation technologies and approaches, with the goal of making them available for use as quickly as possible by conservation-minded farmers and ranchers nationwide. CIGs help conserve and enhance natural resources on our nation’s farms and ranches: not only does USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provide funds directly to farmers and ranchers looking to adopt and enhance conservation practices on their land through farm bill conservation programs, but NRCS also provides CIGs to fund projects that seek to develop and improve access to innovative conservation solutions for farmers and ranchers nationwide through on-farm pilots and demonstration projects.

Learn More About CIGs! 

Program Basics

CIGs are a subprogram of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) specifically designed to fund innovative conservation projects that promote science-based solutions that benefit both farmers and the environment.

The CIG program is a competitive grants program leveraging multi-stakeholder partnerships to address a variety of natural resource concerns on agricultural land. These on-the-ground projects are funded to help transfer technology to farmers and ranchers in order to address critical natural resource concerns, and include on-farm pilot projects and field demonstrations.

CIG funding is announced each year and funds can be used to fund single or multi-year projects, not to exceed three years. In the funding announcement, NRCS typically provides some guidance regarding the particular resource concerns or areas of innovation to be addressed in that year’s funding pool, which can change each year to prioritize new or emerging high priority natural resource concerns. The FY 2016 funding announcement, for example, focused on the themes of water quality, conservation finance, and assistance to historically underserved USDA customers.


State, local, and tribal governments, non-governmental organizations, and individuals are all eligible to apply for CIGs. Grantees must match 50 percent of the funds provided by the CIG award through non-federal in-kind or cash contributions, and are also responsible for providing the necessary technical assistance. NRCS provides technical oversight for the project.

To be a successful application, the proposed conservation approach or technology must involve EQIP-eligible farmers or ranchers. See our EQIP page for more details on EQIP eligibility.

Each year, up to 10 percent of national CIG funds may be set aside for projects targeting historically-underserved applicants, such as beginning and limited resource farmers and ranchers, or Indian tribes, including community-based organizations comprised of or representing them. Projects targeting historically underserved applicants can derive a higher percentage of project matching funds from in-kind contributions.

The Program in Action

Since the establishment of the program in 2004, NRCS has provided over $263 million in CIG awards, funding more than 650 projects. Projects range from conservation outreach to non-English-speaking poultry producers; developing and demonstrating conservation practices (some using new technology) that can be easily and inexpensively adopted by limited-resource, socially disadvantaged and beginning farmers; demonstrating cattle mob grazing effects on the productivity and profitability of grazing land, plant species, soil and water quality; demonstrating and communicating the adaptability and benefits of cover crops and “cover crop cocktails” to farmers, ranchers, Extension personnel and NRCS personnel; and developing an online tool for farmers to self-assess their on-farm energy use.

USDA awarded CIG program grants to four NSAC member organizations in FY 2016:

  • The Center for Rural Affairs received $162,002 to train three target farmer populations – women, veteran, and beginning farmers – through peer-group learning, field demonstrations, and access to soil experts, using approaches customized to each target group. Participating farmers learn how to select and implement conservation practices informed by climate and soil science. The Center will also help conservation professionals better assist farmers in these topics, and will develop and share recommendations for improving conservation programs.
  • The Women, Food and Agriculture Network was awarded $553,124 to conduct conservation outreach to absentee women landowners, who, according to the Network, are at an enormous disadvantage when it comes to awareness, understanding, and confidence in conservation on their land.
  • Practical Farmers of Iowa received $400,912 to test a new model for conservation adoption to increase the acres of small grains grown as a third crop in the corn and soybean rotation. The project seeks to improve market access through supply chain engagement and to support farmer adoption and awareness of the widespread benefits of small grains. The project also seeks to advance knowledge and connectivity in the field by developing a Rotation Expert Network, which will serve to increase awareness of the co-benefits, structural barriers, and opportunities for increasing adoption of extended rotation with key stakeholders.
  • The Xerces Society, in partnership with Oregon Tilth (another NSAC member organization) and major food companies, agricultural investors, and conservation-minded farmers, received $351,028 to develop and launch a first-of-its-kind certification program that incentivizes the large-scale adoption of pollinator conservation through a marketing-driven and third party certification platform.

In 2010, NSAC, together with 10 of our member organizations, received CIG funding to provide advice and assistance to NRCS on how to better integrate sustainable and organic agriculture into NRCS programs and practice standards. Project partners evaluated and proposed revisions to more than 50 NRCS conservation practice standards and enhancements to facilitate participation in NRCS programs by sustainable and organic producers. The project also analyzed the capacity of TSPs and NRCS technical staff to provide assistance to organic producers; provided training for TSPs, NRCS staff, crop advisors, organic certifiers and organizations; and developed revised guidance materials for NRCS conservation planning.

How to Apply and Program Resources

CIG funds are available through national and state pools. National CIG funding notices are announced each year and are awarded through a nationwide competitive grants process. The scope of the project can be watershed-based, regional, multi-state, or nationwide. The CIG announcement will identify the particular resources to be addressed through that year’s funding pool, and may change each year to prioritize new or emerging high priority natural resource issues.

State CIG awards typically go to projects that are state-based, multi-county, small watershed, or statewide. Those funds are announced though participating states, though NRCS may also make the information available on the national CIG webpage.

Program History, Funding, and Farm Bill Changes

The CIG subprogram was first authorized in the 2002 Farm Bill. The 2014 Farm Bill modifies the program to specifically authorize funding for projects that facilitate on-farm conservation research and demonstration activities, and also requires USDA to report to Congress biennially on all funding awarded through the CIG program, including project results and incorporation of project findings into USDA conservation efforts.

The total funding level to administer the CIG program is left to the discretion of USDA. However, the 2014 Farm Bill sets aside $25 million for each fiscal year through FY 2018 specifically for CIG projects that address air quality, a reduction from the $37 million annual allocation in the 2008 Farm Bill. 

Authorizing Language

Section 2207 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 amends Section 1240H of the Food Security Act of 1985, to be codified at 16 U.S.C. 3839aa-8.

This page last updated in October 2016.