USDA is offering grants for innovative ideas for conservation strategies and technologies. USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service plans to invest $10 million in the Conservation Innovation Grants, funding innovative conservation projects in three focus areas: grazing lands, organic systems and soil health. CIG proposals are due Feb. 26.
"Conservation Innovation Grants play a critical role in developing and implementing new methods to help our customers conserve natural resources, strengthen their local communities, and improve their bottom lines," says Rob Johansson, acting deputy undersecretary for farm production and conservation at USDA. "This program supports our efforts to help producers build economically-strong and resilient farms and ranches by providing producers tools to utilize across their working farmlands.”
Natural resource concerns
NRCS uses CIG to work with partners to accelerate transfer and adoption of promising technologies and approaches that address some of the nation’s most pressing natural resource concerns. This year, NRCS is focusing funding in these areas:
• Grazing lands. Helping livestock producers make grazing management decisions, encouraging prescribed burning as a grazing management practice, and improving access to conservation planning tools used for developing grazing management plans.
• Organic agriculture systems. Helping organic producers develop innovative cropping and tillage systems, edge-of-field monitoring, crop rotations and intercropping systems.
• Soil health. Supporting both cropping and grazing systems, in a variety of climatic zones, that incorporate soil health management systems for addressing specific resource concerns like nutrients and availability. Evaluating multiple soil health assessment methods to assist in development of new soil health indicators and thresholds.
“Every sector of American agriculture has its unique conservation challenges,” Johansson says. “CIG enables USDA to help support new, innovative tools and techniques which have helped U.S. agriculture become the powerhouse we see today, leading the world in both production efficiency and conservation delivery.”
How to apply
Potential applicants should review the announcement of program funding available at grants.gov, which includes application materials and submission procedures. All U.S.-based entities and individuals are invited to apply, with the sole exception of federal agencies. Up to 20% of CIG funds will be set aside for proposals from historically underserved producers, veteran farmers or ranchers or groups serving these customers.
NRCS is hosting a webinar for potential CIG applicants on Jan. 11 at 3 p.m. Central time. Information on how to join the webinar can be found here. CIG is authorized and funded under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Projects can last up to three years. Maximum award amount for any project this year is $2 million.
Program ongoing since 2004
Funding conservation innovation for more than a decade since 2004, NRCS has invested nearly $286.7 million in more than 700 projects focused on providing farmers and ranchers new techniques and decision-making tools for improving natural resource conservation on their land. Projects included:
• The National Association of Conservation Districts evaluated year-by-year changes in corn and soybean farmer income during a multistate, three-year study, that determined soil health practices such as cover crops and no-till can result in an economic return of over $100 per acre.
• The National Center for Appropriate Technology worked with leading sustainable and organic agriculture organizations, NRCS staff, consultants and hundreds of farmers to better integrate organic systems into NRCS programs and procedures and improve NRCS programs accessibility. As a result, NRCS changed 15 Conservation Stewardship Program conservation enhancements, added one new CSP conservation enhancement and published an organic guidebook for NRCS field staff.
• The Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship project will work with historically underserved populations in the Great Lakes Region to develop apprentice relationships that will foster skills in innovative managed grazing. DGA is a two-year accredited national apprenticeship that provides employment, mentorship, comprehensive training and peer-to-peer discussions to help dairy grazers advance their careers.