April 6, 2020
Editor’s Note: In response to COVID-19, NRCS has extended the deadline for CIG On-Farm Trials. This post has been updated to reflect the latest information.
On March 12, 2020, the U.S. 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 sub-program of the Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program. CIGs are designed to support collaboration between NRCS and partners to implement innovative 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 May 29, 2020 (extended from May 11, 2020).
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. Resource concerns and areas of innovation can change each year as NRCS seeks to prioritize new, or emerging, high priority natural resource concerns.
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 3 and 5 years in duration.
Each year, NRCS identifies priority topics for On-Farm Trials. For 2020, applicants must address one of the four following priorities:
More details on these priorities is available in the full announcement available through grants.gov.
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 2020 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 in order to evaluate the project. 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 priorities for 2020 within the SHD component include:
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.
In 2019, regional challenges were identified and applications for SHD had to address these challenges and incorporate geographic considerations where possible. For 2020, however, regional challenges have not been identified. Applicants must still be able to develop production and climate specific SHMS templates that are regionally relevant for projects that successfully implement SHMS, though.
NRCS is accepting proposals for On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials through May 29, 2020. Applicants can find the full description of this funding opportunity and apply online through grants.gov.
Finally, NRCS held a webinar on March 26, 2020 to provide more information to potential applicants. The recording of the webinar is available online, in addition to other helpful resources for applicants.