Conservation Innovation Grants

Promoting innovative and science-based conservation solutions that benefit farmers and the environment 

Conservation Innovation Grants (CIGs) support the development and testing of promising new conservation technologies and approaches with the goal of making them available for use as quickly as possible by farmers and ranchers. In addition to providing funds directly to farmers and ranchers looking to adopt and enhance conservation practices on their land, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) also provides CIGs to fund projects that seek to develop and improve access to innovative conservation solutions for farmers and ranchers nationwide through on-farm pilots and demonstration projects.

Learn More About CIGs: 

Program Basics

CIGs are a subprogram of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) specifically designed to fund innovative conservation projects that promote science-based solutions that benefit farmers and the environment.

The CIG program provides competitive grants that leverage multi-stakeholder partnerships that address a variety of natural resource concerns on agricultural lands. These on-the-ground projects help transfer technology to farmers and ranchers in order to address critical natural resource concerns, and may include on-farm pilot projects and field demonstrations.

Funding for CIGs is announced each year, and funds can be used to fund single or multi-year projects (not to exceed three years). In the funding announcement, NRCS typically provides some guidance regarding the particular resource concerns or areas of innovation to be addressed in that year’s funding pool. These concerns and priorities can change from year to year. The fiscal year (FY) 2018 funding announcement, for example, focused on the themes of grazing lands, organic agriculture systems, and soil health while the FY 2019 round focused on pollinator habitat, urban agriculture, and increasing the pace of conservation adoption.


State, local, and tribal governments, non-governmental organizations, and individuals are all eligible to apply for CIGs. The 2018 Farm Bill expanded eligibility to also include community colleges that are carrying out demonstration projects on the college’s land.

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.

To be a successful application, the proposed conservation approach or technology must involve EQIP-eligible farmers or ranchers. See NSAC’s EQIP page for more details on EQIP eligibility.

Each year, up to 10 percent of national CIG funds may be set aside for projects targeting historically-underserved applicants, such as beginning and limited resource farmers and ranchers, or Native American tribes (including community-based organizations comprised of or representing these farmers). Projects targeting historically underserved applicants can derive a higher percentage of project matching funds from in-kind contributions.

The Program in Action

Since the establishment of the program in 2004, NRCS has provided nearly $300 million in CIG awards, funding more than 730 projects. Project examples include:

  • Conservation outreach to non-English-speaking poultry producers
  • Developing and demonstrating conservation practices (some using new technology) that can be easily and inexpensively adopted by limited-resource, socially disadvantaged and beginning farmers
  • Demonstrating cattle mob grazing effects on the productivity and profitability of grazing land, plant species, soil and water quality
  • Demonstrating and communicating the adaptability and benefits of cover crops and “cover crop cocktails” to farmers, ranchers, Extension personnel and NRCS personnel
  • Developing an online tool for farmers to self-assess their on-farm energy use

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) member organizations have utilized CIGs to support a diversity of innovative projects over the years. In 2018, USDA awarded the following CIGs to NSAC member organizations:

  • The Northeast Organic Farming Association(NOFA) received funding to work with farmers in three northeastern states to improve and further develop no-till organic practices. The organization’s priority is addressing the importance of soil health and tracking the tools and support that farmers need to maintain sustainable businesses. Project leaders will then share this information widely through workshops, conferences, field days, and media materials. NOFA’s work will be especially useful for farmers in the Northeast given the limited information and resources available to support no-till organic practices, and the fact that the dominant no-till strategies currently rely heavily on synthetic herbicides for weed control, making them unusable by organic farmers.
  • Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture(PASA) received a CIG award to empower citizen-science farmers with the tools and support to assess their soil health, manage conservation goals, and track their progress. PASA will use community oriented monitoring and open source farm management in their project, incorporating outcome-based marketing in their education for consumers. The farmers they are working with will do soil sampling and on-farm data collection and then share management records with other farmers in order to build a deeper understanding on how each farm’s soil health systems compare, ultimately learning and growing through the collaboration.
  • Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) received funding to increase demand for small grains as animal feed and cover crop seed in order to create a secondary market for farmers looking to increase their small grain acres. This projects aims to create more sustainable food chains for food companies, while also serving the needs of sustainable farmers for profitable, more diverse rotations. Food companies and farmers will collaborate in the effort to improve water quality and soil health and limit greenhouse gas emissions. PFI’s goal is to get the conditions right to really make small grains work in a farm business, setting the stage for them to take off across the region and provide the conservation and environmental benefits of more extended, diverse crop rotations at scale.

How to Apply and Program Resources

CIG funds are available through national and state pools. National CIG funding notices are announced each year and are awarded through a nationwide competitive grants process. The scope of projects can be watershed-based, regional, multi-state, or nationwide. The CIG announcement will identify the particular resources to be addressed through that year’s funding pool, and may change each year to prioritize new or emerging high priority natural resource issues.

State CIG awards typically support projects that are state-based, multi-county or small watershed in scope. Those funds are announced though participating states, though NRCS may also make the information available on the national CIG webpage. For more information on the CIG program and projects, check out the following resources:

Program History, Funding, and Farm Bill Changes

The CIG subprogram was first authorized in the 2002 Farm Bill. The 2018 Farm Bill modifies and expands the program to include community colleges, on-farm innovation, and soil health trials. It also expands the types of projects that can be awarded to include urban agriculture projects, as well as explicitly including edge of field monitoring. Additionally, the new farm bill establishes an on-farm conservation innovation trial, including a soil health demonstration trial.

The total funding level to administer the CIG program is left to the discretion of USDA. The 2018 Farm Bill sets aside $37.5 million for each fiscal year through FY 2023 specifically for CIG projects that address air quality, an increase up from the $25 million annual allocation in the 2014 Farm Bill.

Authorizing Language

Section 2307 of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 amends Section 1240H of the Food Security Act of 1985, to be codified at 16 U.S.C. 3839aa-8.

This page last updated in July 2019.