The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it is offering grants for innovative ideas for conservation strategies and technologies. USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) plans to invest $10 million in the Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program, funding innovative conservation projects in three focus areas: grazing lands, organic systems and soil health. Grant proposals are due Feb. 26, 2018.
"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," said Rob Johansson, acting deputy undersecretary for farm production and conservation. "Today's announcement supports our efforts to help producers build economically strong and resilient farms and ranches by providing producers tools to utilize across their working farmlands.”
NRCS uses the CIG program 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, and evaluating multiple soil health assessment methods to assist in the development of new soil health indicators and thresholds.
Greg Fogel with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) applauded the focus areas, noting that choosing organic agriculture systems, soil health and grazing lands as the three priority areas for the fiscal 2018 CIG program "sends a strong signal about where additional investment is needed in the coming years. Conservation agriculture, including organic farming, is an economic driver that provides huge benefits to family farmers while improving natural resources and environmental benefits for the generations to come. It is only by farming with the future at the forefront of our minds that we can deliver to the American people a food and farm system that they can be proud of – one in which family farmers can make an honest living providing safe and abundant food to their neighbors and communities."
Fogel added, “With the addition of organic systems as a CIG priority area, USDA is acknowledging the tremendous impact the organic industry has had – and will have – on American agriculture. Combined with the fundamental priorities of soil health and grazing lands – and with much-needed resources directed specifically toward underserved farmers – we expect that the (fiscal) 2018 CIG projects will produce groundbreaking, industry-innovating results.”
“Every sector of American agriculture has its unique conservation challenges,” Johansson said. “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.”
Potential applicants may review the announcement of program funding available at www.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 at 4 p.m. (Eastern) on Jan. 11, 2018. 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. The maximum award amount for any project this year is $2 million.