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$15 Million Available for Conservation Innovation Grants

May 21, 2020


Mature cover crop field in Indiana. Photo credit: Mark Anson via USDA.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recently announced the availability of $15 million for the Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program. This is in addition to the $25 million announced in March for on-farm trials. This funding announcement is the traditional CIG option that has been offered in the past and is referred to as “Classic CIG.”

The deadline to apply for fiscal year (FY) 2020 funding for Classic CIG is June 29, 2020 at 11:59 pm EST.

What is CIG?

Part of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the CIG program is administered by NRCS and provides grant funding for the development, application, and demonstration of innovative conservation technologies and approaches. Through CIG, public and private grantees work to develop the tools, technologies, and strategies to support future conservation efforts on working lands as well as develop market-based solutions to resource challenges.

CIG projects are a critical tool in the effort to transfer innovative conservation management systems, approaches, and technologies to farmers and ranchers. CIGs also help to share conservation research, findings, and best practices with NRCS (for use in technical manuals and guides), as well as the private sector.

CIGs bring a wide range of partners to the table to support innovation – state, local, and tribal governments, non-governmental organizations, and individuals are all eligible to apply. Grantees must match 100 percent of the funds provided by the CIG award through non-federal contributions, which can be either in-kind or cash contributions. Grantees are also responsible for providing the necessary technical assistance; NRCS provides technical oversight for the project.

FY 2020 CIG Priorities

Each year, NRCS identifies priority categories within CIG that can advance new or emerging high priority natural resource issues. This year’s announcement for Classic CIG included five priority areas: water quality, water reuse, wildlife, air quality, and energy conservation.

  • NRCS seeks proposals that “demonstrate innovative approaches that improve water quality while maintaining agricultural productivity.” Subpriorities that can be addressed include watershed assessment that reduce pollutant loss to streams, minimizing phosphorus and nitrogen, using sensor technologies for water quality conservation, reducing pesticide loss, using technology to identify and target pests, salinity reduction, manure management, and nutrient load reduction.
  • The availability of quality water for agricultural use is an issue in many parts of the country. If a CIG grant is developed to address water reuse, it should address at least one subpriority: technologies or approaches to measuring nitrates in tailwater recovery ponds prior to use as irrigation water, reducing salinity problems, enhancement of the volume and reliability of irrigation with reused water, reduction of pathogen transmission. 
  • Private lands can be excellent areas for wildlife habitat while also benefiting landowners. Under CIG’s wildlife priority, at least one of the following subpriorities must be met: tool development that identify regional priority areas, tool development for estimated wildlife response to conservation practices/systems, and/or technologies/practices for terrestrial and aquatic habitat. 
  • Sustainable producers have long been on the leading edge of air quality improvement on their farms. For CIG applicants, there are several air quality resource concerns that should be addressed, including particulate matter, ozone precursors, greenhouse gases, airborne reactive nitrogen, and “objectionable odors.” Applicants should be able to address mitigation of these emissions and/or be able to develop better procedures for identifying air quality issues and solutions in the context of their land. 
  • Though energy is one of the areas where producers already have considerable control, there is still a lot of room for progress and innovation. Among the subpriorities NRCS is looking to develop are data on energy use, the adoption of energy conservation through rebates, prescriptive lists, or other protocols, the use of practices common in other fields but still underutilized in agriculture, and methods to help producers identify their own energy efficiency and renewable energy needs. 

The full funding announcement is available online through grants.gov and includes the details of each priority listed above.

Awards and Eligibility

Awards for national projects can range between $150,000 and $2 million. State, local, and tribal governments, non-governmental organizations, and individuals are all eligible to apply for CIGs. The 2018 Farm Bill expanded eligibility to also allow community colleges that are carrying out demonstration projects on the college’s land to apply.

All Grantees must match 100 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. All proposed conservation approaches or technologies of the CIG application must involve EQIP-eligible farmers or ranchers.

How to Apply  

The application deadline for FY 2019 Classic CIG funds is June 29, 2020, 11:59 pm EST. Applications can be submitted through www.grants.gov. You can also learn about the CIG program through the NRCS website, and via NSAC’s Grassroots Guide.


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