NSAC's Blog


July 27, 2022

Photo Credit: SARE

On July 25, 2022, the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced the availability of $25 million in funding to advance the adoption and evaluation of innovative conservation practices on agricultural lands. The funding is for on-farm trials, a subprogram of the Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program. CIGs are designed to support collaboration between NRCS and partners to implement on-the-ground conservation activities and evaluate their impacts. Participating farmers and ranchers receive payments to offset the risk and investments for testing out new conservation approaches.

The deadline to apply for On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials is September 22, 2022.

CIG Basics

Authorized under the 2018 Farm Bill, the CIG program supports science-based solutions that benefit both farmers and the environment. As a subprogram of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), CIG projects are intended as a stepping-stone for farmers to implement more innovative conservation management systems, approaches, and technologies on their land.

Through the CIG program, NRCS offers competitive grants to fund multi-stakeholder partnerships that 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.

NRCS typically provides guidance regarding the particular resource concerns or areas of innovation to be addressed in that year’s funding pool. NRCS seeks to prioritize emerging, high priority concerns each year.

On-Farm Trials

The 2018 Farm Bill established On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials to provide funding directly to partners, who can then offer technical assistance and payments to producers interested in implementing innovative conservation practices on their land. On-Farm Trials support the implementation of innovative approaches that have a positive conservation effect, but have not yet been widely adopted by producers. NRCS is authorized to provide $25 million per year for on-farm trials with awards ranging from $250,000 to $5 million.

This CIG funding announcement is specifically for the $25 million available for On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials. NRCS will announce funding for additional opportunities through the CIG program later this year. On-Farm Trial grants are available for non-governmental organizations with experience working with farmers and ranchers, private entities whose primary business is related to agriculture, and non-federal government agencies. On-Farm Trials projects may be between three and five years in duration.

Typically, successful applicants must provide a 25 percent match to federal funds awarded. For this competition, the match requirement is reduced to 10 percent of the federal award for applicants who qualify for the Historically Underserved (HU) set-aside in EQIP.  Upon request from the applicant, NRCS may waive the cost share requirement entirely for any applicants that qualify for the HU set aside and provide a justification of why they are unable to provide any matching funds. This waiver request should be included in the applicant’s HU Narrative section of its proposal.

Priorities: 2022 On-Farm Trials

Each year, NRCS identifies priority topics for On-Farm Trials. For 2022, applicants must address one of the four following priorities:

Irrigation Water Management Technologies: proposals to evaluate innovative water management systems that enhance a producer’s ability to monitor irrigation needs effectively, manage irrigation practices efficiently, and increase water savings by using precision technologies. Innovative irrigation systems should focus on balancing producer needs with conservation benefits. 

Climate Smart Agricultural Solutions: applications that evaluate innovative on-farm approaches to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases (e.g., nitrous oxide (N2O), methane (CH4), and carbon dioxide (CO2)) or enhancing carbon sequestration from soils and perennial biomass. All selected applications must use quantification methodologies that align with the USDA report titled Quantifying Greenhouse Gas Fluxes in Agriculture and Forestry: Methods for Entity-Scale Inventory. This priority is designed for proposals that are not focused on soil health management principles. Proposals that are focused on soil health management should submit under the SHD priority described in A.2.d.

Nutrient Management: applications that help producers achieve conservation benefits through more efficient nutrient management. 

Soil Health Demonstration Trial: on-farm demonstrations of Soil Health Management Systems (SHMS) and production systems being transitioned to a SHMS. A SHMS is a collection of management practices that focus on increasing soil carbon levels and improving soil health by addressing the soil health management principles of: (1) minimizing disturbance, (2) maximizing soil cover, (3) maximizing biodiversity, and (4) maximizing presence of living roots. SHD proposals must indicate which of the four soil health management principles the prospective project would address. Applicants are strongly encouraged to address all four principles.

More details on these priorities is available in the full announcement available through grants.gov.

Soil Health Demonstration Trial

As part of authorizing On-Farm Trials, the 2018 Farm Bill also created the Soil Health Demonstration Trial (SHD) component, which focuses exclusively on conservation practices and systems that enhance soil health and increase soil carbon. NRCS anticipates that up to $10 million of On-Farm Trials funding in 2022 will be awarded to entities applying for the SHD component.

Participants in the SHD component must use consistent soil health and soil carbon assessment protocols developed by NRCS. Projects are evaluated in terms of soil health, as well as by the economic outcomes generated as a result of the conservation practices. This option supports farmers in their efforts to build soil health, while simultaneously measuring, evaluating, and reporting on the outcomes associated with these projects.

SHD are on-farm demonstrations of long-term, successful Soil Health Management Systems (SHMS), and/or production systems transitioning to a SHMS. A SHMS is a collection of management practices that focuses on increasing soil carbon and improving soil health through the four soil health management principles: minimize disturbance, maximize soil cover, maximize biodiversity, and maximize the presence of living roots.

National subpriorities for 2022 within the SHD component include:

  • Designing SHMS for high disturbance production systems (e.g., potatoes, onions, sugar beets, other root crops).
  • Developing SHMS that include applying carbon amendments such as compost or biochar with evaluations of the effects on soil carbon and soil health.
  • Improving cover crop management in regions with specific challenges (e.g., timing of planting and termination in water-limited regions or pest management in humid regions).
  • Integrating greater diversity in production systems, such as managing soil health on grazing land, perennial vegetation in cropping systems, integrated crop-livestock systems, or other diversification.
  • Designing SHMS with adapted nutrient management strategies for improved water quality (e.g., systems that address dissolved reactive phosphorus and other phosphorus in the soil in cold climates and nutrient-threatened watersheds).
  • Addressing any of the previous subpriorities within the context of climate change adaptation, resilience, or soil carbon stock changes, with special attention toward collecting data to define and quantify outcomes. If climate mitigation is part of a SHD proposal, the methods for estimating entity-scale emissions should follow the USDA report titled Quantifying Greenhouse Gas Fluxes in Agriculture and Forestry: Methods for Entity-Scale Inventory.

Trials that compare SHMS to nearby or similar production systems that do not meet SHMS principles (e.g., high disturbance, low diversity, low cover) are highly desired for this round of funding. Applicants must develop production and climate specific SHMS templates that are regionally relevant for projects that successfully implement SHMS.

How to Apply

NRCS is accepting proposals for On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials through September 22, 2022. Applicants can find the full description of this funding opportunity and apply online through grants.gov. Finally, NRCS will hold a webinar for On-Farm Trials on August 10, 2022 at 3 p.m. Eastern Time to provide more information to potential applicants. Use the information below to join the webinar:

Join on your computer or mobile app

Click here to join the meeting

Or call in (audio only)

+1 202-650-0123  

Phone Conference ID: 727 879 308#

NRCS anticipates making selections by December 2022 and expects to execute awards by April 1, 2023. These dates are projected and are subject to change.

Categories: Carousel, Conservation, Energy & Environment

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