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USDA to Invest $25 Million in Conservation Innovation Grants

November 9, 2016

Jason Carter, a SC farmer participating in a CIG-funded field study. His tillage radishes are part of his multispecies cover crop mix. Photo credit: USDA.

Jason Carter, a SC farmer participating in a CIG-funded field study. His tillage radishes are part of his multispecies cover crop mix. Photo credit: USDA.

Farming is equal parts art and science; farmers and ranchers continuously combine their time-tested knowledge and experiences with creativity and innovation in order to develop new practices that help improve their businesses and protect their lands and waters. From soil sensing to crop scanning, agtech involves a spectrum of technologies coming to bear on agriculture. To support and encourage ingenuity in on-farm resource conservation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides Conservation Innovation Grants (CIGs). These grants support the development and testing of promising new conservation technologies and approaches, with the goal of taking one farmer’s or organization’s bright idea and making it quickly available to conservation-minded farmers and ranchers nationwide.

The CIG program is designed to leverage multi-stakeholder partnerships to address a variety of natural resource concerns on agricultural land. These on-the-ground projects help transfer new technology to farmers and ranchers, and, via a farm bill change championed by NSAC, may include on-farm research and demonstration activities as well as on-farm pilot projects. CIGs are authorized and funded under USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

On Friday, November 3, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that USDA is seeking new proposals through the CIG program, and will invest up to $25 million in fiscal year (FY) 2017 in projects that spark the development and adoption of innovative conservation technologies and approaches. CIG will fund single and multi-year projects (not to exceed 3 years).

The Announcement of Program Funding (APF) provides more details on submitting proposals, which are due by January 9, 2017.

CIG applicants must be a federally recognized Indian Tribe, State or local government, non-governmental organization, or an individual. Proposals must be sent electronically through www.Grants.gov and emailed as a PDF to nrcscig@wdc.usda.gov.

In last week’s announcement, Secretary Vilsack highlighted the important role that innovation plays in developing resilient systems to combat the mounting pressures of climate change:

“Conservation Innovation Grants have played a critical role in developing and implementing creative new methods to conserve the nation’s private agricultural lands and strengthening rural communities. Today’s announcement builds on our support of technologies and approaches that help producers increase resiliency to extreme weather such as drought and floods.”

In order to prioritize new or emerging high priority natural resource concerns, NRCS provides guidance regarding the particular resource concerns or areas of innovation to be addressed in each year’s funding pool. The 2017 focus areas for project proposals include the following:

  • Beginning, Socially Disadvantaged, Limited Resource, and Veteran Farmers: These projects will develop innovative environmental enhancement and protection approaches/ technologies for the primary benefit of historically underserved producers, veteran farmers or ranchers, or organizations representing these individuals. 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; programs that emphasize program outreach; or projects that develop technical training.
  • Data Analytics for Natural Resource Conservation: These projects will develop data analytic tools (such as software and mobile apps) to increase producer knowledge of conservation benefits. The tools should be designed to increase adoption of conservation practices by farmers, and may address water quality, water quantity, air quality, climate change, soil health, and wildlife habitat.
  • Pay-for-Success Models to Stimulate Conservation Adoption: Pay-for-success (PFS) projects will tie payments to the achievement of measurable outcomes, and require private financing to provide upfront capital for innovative projects. Projects in this area would develop and demonstrate PFS approaches to stimulate conservation adoption on private lands.
  • Precision Conservation Approaches: These projects will design and implement more precise management of inputs such as water, fertilizer, and pesticides. As part of a precision conservation approach, analyses can reveal that there may be parts of a field that are not economically viable for production – unveiling hidden opportunities to adopt “precision conservation” through the use of conservation practices.
  • Demonstrating the Cost Effectiveness of Leveraged Public and Private Impact Investments in Working Lands Conservation: NRCS is seeking proposals that demonstrate the potential for new investment approaches that accelerate and expand private working lands conservation. This may include: climate or green bonds, sustainable agricultural investments, sustainable forestry investments, and green infrastructure investments.

Since 2009, USDA has invested almost $173 million in more than 400 CIG projects across the country. This year, USDA is continuing its commitment to increasing assistance to historically underserved and military veteran farmers, setting aside up to $2 million of this year’s $25 million in funding for projects that target these farmers and the organizations that support them.

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) member organizations have continuously received CIG awards for their innovative conservation work over the years. Examples of past CIG projects, including awards to NSAC member organizations, can be found on our blog.

Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment, Grants and Programs

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