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USDA Commits $20 Million to Reward Conservation Innovation

March 9, 2016

A producer in Stanly County, North Carolina roles down a cover crop just minutes before planting corn. Photo credit: NRCS

A producer in Stanly County, North Carolina rolls down a cover crop just minutes before planting corn. Photo credit: NRCS

Every day farmers and ranchers are developing creative ways to conserve the air, water, and soil on their lands. For fiscal year (FY) 2016, according to a March 7 release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), up to $20 million in competitive grants will be available through the Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program to help these innovative farmers and ranchers develop pioneering conservation technologies and practices. Ten percent of the award funding will be designated for projects that assist socially disadvantaged and veteran farmers and ranchers.

Part of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the CIG program is administered by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and provides grant funding for the development, application, and demonstration of innovative conservation technologies and approaches.

The CIG program funds both single and multi-year projects (not exceeding three years) through a national, competitive call for proposals. Once selected, applicants must provide non-federal match (including in-kind), equal to the amount of federal funds requested. The cap on CIG funds for individual project grants has doubled this year, from $1 million in 2015 to $2 million in 2016.

Proposals are due to NRCS by 4pm EST on May 10, 2016 and must be submitted both electronically via the federal grants website and as a PDF to nrcscig@wdc.usda.gov.

Eligible applicants include Indian Tribes, states and governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations, and individuals. Applicants are eligible to apply from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Caribbean Area, and the Pacific Islands.

In past years, some CIG projects have focused on developing market-based solutions to improve water quality and mitigate climate change. Others, like the FY14 project of NSAC member group, The Wallace Center-Winrock International Institute of Agriculture Development (Wallace), have included on-farm pilot projects and field demonstrations that show innovation in reducing on-farm inputs and energy use.

In 2014 Wallace received nearly $400,000 to demonstrate the economic and soil health benefits of livestock grazing on cover crops. This innovative project established and monitored demonstrations on 50-acre, side-by-side control and treatment plots within cornfields on eight farms over the course of two years. Through the project Wallace was able to demonstrate the positive impact of combining rotational grazing and multi-specifics cover crops, which were shown to build soil health, increase water infiltration, reduce erosion and increase the productive capacity of the land. Learn more about the CIG program in NSAC’s Grassroots Guide.

For the 2016 call for proposals, USDA will consider projects that fall into the following categories:

  • Projects that describe innovative environmental enhancement and protection approaches and technologies for the primary benefit of historically underserved producers, veteran farmers or ranchers, or organizations comprised of or representing these individuals or entities. Such projects may include:
    • Technology transfer
    • Demonstration of new or novel technology that can be easily and inexpensively adopted
    • Projects that assess resource conditions and land capabilities
    • Projects that emphasize program outreach
    • Projects that develop technical training
  • Projects that develop, demonstrate and/or quantify the impacts of innovative conservation systems (and their component practices or approaches) in an agricultural setting that improves/protects ground and/or surface water quality. Such projects may include:
    • Projects that utilize a systems approach to solving water quality problems and that include quantification of impacts.
    • Projects that address areas/systems with major water quality issues (e.g. reducing nitrogen and phosphorus loss in tile drained soils).
    • In addition to those projects that can be completed within the three-year timeframe, projects will also be considered that lay a solid foundation for longer-term demonstration and quantification needs.
  • Projects that demonstrate the cost effectiveness of leveraged public/private impact investments in working lands conservation. For the purpose of this section, NRCS is seeking applications that demonstrate the potential for new investment approaches that accelerate and expand private lands conservation. Examples include:
    • Pay-for-success Environmental Improvement Bonds
    • Climate/Green Bonds
    • Sustainable Agricultural Investments
    • Sustainable Forestry Investments
    • Green Infrastructure Investments

In addition, each project must demonstrate:

  • A significant potential to leverage scalable private investment.
  • A commitment to improve measurement of conservation outcomes associated with investment strategies.
  • Engagement with private investment partners.
  • The provision of new models for enhancing the sustainable productivity of working lands, which are consistent with landowner ownership and natural resource management objectives.

Examples of past CIG projects, including awards to NSAC member organizations, can be found on our blog.

Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment, General Interest, Grants and Programs

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