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$15 Million Available for Conservation Innovation Grants

June 1, 2021


California buffer strip, one of many conservation practices supported by the farm bill's working lands conservation programs. Photo credit: USDA NRCS.
California buffer strip, one of many conservation practices supported by the farm bill’s working lands conservation programs. Photo credit: USDA NRCS.

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 funding is in addition to the $25 million in funding that was previously announced for on-farm trials (a CIG sub-program established under the 2018 Farm Bill). 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) 2021 funding for Classic CIG is July 19, 2021 at 11:59 pm ET.

CIG Basics

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 develop the tools, technologies, and strategies to support pioneering 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 novel 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 50 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.

Successful applications must include conservation approaches or projects that directly involve EQIP-eligible farmers or ranchers. For this FY 2021 CIG application period, up to 10 percent of national funds are set aside for projects targeting historically underserved and veteran farmers or ranchers.

The Classic CIG program has two components – national and state. This latest announcement is for the national component; it is up to each state office to choose to administer its own CIG competition in FY 2021, using a portion of its state EQIP funds. Several states have already announced funding availability for this year.

FY 2021 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 four priority areas: climate-smart strategies focused on water quality and quantity and increased resilience; soil health methods for climate mitigation, adaptation, and resilience, nutrient management to address water quality issues at a regional or watershed level; grazing lands conservation; and increased conservation adoption.

  • Climate-smart strategies for water resources and increased resilience – Projects should propose innovative conservation approaches that address climate-smart water quality and quantity issues. These include transformative on-farm production systems or land use changes, such as shifting from annual to perennial systems to decrease soil erosion; modifying current crop rotation strategies to better fit new climatic conditions, such as shifts to crops that use less water or are tolerant of wet conditions; and developing, adopting, or adapting technologies in a new way to deal with climate induced seasonal water changes.
  • Soil health for climate mitigation, adaptation, and resilience – Projects should explore innovative approaches to push the boundaries and knowledge of the complex interactions between climate change and soil health and must address either carbon sequestration or climate resilience. NRCS is seeking proposals that demonstrate innovative approaches that increase resilience through improved soil health or increase carbon sequestration in soil while maintaining agricultural productivity. Projects that improve our ability to measure, quantify, and monitor on-farm carbon sequestration are also eligible.
  • Nutrient management adoption to meet watershed or regional water quality goals – Projects should apply promising nutrient management practices and technologies that result in the measurable reduction of excess nutrients over time on a watershed or regional scale by implementing innovative technologies and approaches. This includes addressing offsite nutrient loss at the farm level through nutrient management to address site-specific conditions more effectively; water quality trading programs, innovative conservation finance solutions, or new technologies demonstrated at a community level; and new collaborations such as farmer-led partnerships or rural-urban partnerships.
  • Grazing lands conservation – Projects should demonstrate and facilitate the delivery of new tools, technologies, and strategies that can assist in the improvement and the management of both rangelands and pasturelands across the country, with a particular emphasis on solving wildlife and grazing challenges while enhancing economic efficiency. Innovative tools and approaches could include diagnostic sensors, drones, and other tools to measure water quality, air quality, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, rangeland health attributes, and other ecosystem services on grazing lands; and targeted livestock management strategies that reduce wildfire risk, decrease noxious weed populations, improve critical riparian and wetland habitat areas, minimize drought impacts, and provide options for nontraditional winter-feeding management practices.
  • Increasing conservation adoption – Projects in this priority area should seek to increase the pace and scale of conservation adoption on working lands to sufficiently address persistent natural resource challenges. Proposals submitted under this priority area must address one of the following two sub-priorities: 1. Social science and producer/landowner decision-making or 2. Conservation finance and incentives. Under the first sub-priority, proposals should emphasize innovative approaches, drawing on current social science research and methodology, to increase the scale and sustainability of conservation adoption across the country. Under the second sub-priority, projects should propose innovative incentive programs that demonstrate cutting edge approaches to working lands conservation. Proposals under this sub-priority are encouraged to describe innovations that attract or leverage additional funding, such as private capital, corporate funding, philanthropic contributions, and other funding sources.

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 $300,000 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 allow community colleges carrying out demonstration projects on the college’s land to apply.

All 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. 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 2021 Classic CIG funds is July 19, 2021, 11:59 pm EST. Applications can be submitted through www.grants.gov. NRCS will be holding a webinar for anyone interested in applying to the CIG program on June 8, 2021 at 3 p.m. ET. You can also learn about the CIG program through the NRCS website, and via NSAC’s Grassroots Guide.


Categories: Carousel, Conservation, Energy & Environment, Grants and Programs


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