Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) are competitive grants that stimulate the development and adoption of innovative conservation approaches and technologies in conjunction with agricultural production. CIG uses Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funds to award competitive grants to non-Federal governmental or nongovernmental organizations, American Indian Tribes, or individuals. Producers involved in CIG funded projects must be EQIP eligible.
Through the NRCS CIG program, public and private grantees develop the tools, technologies, and strategies to support next-generation conservation efforts on working lands and develop market-based solutions to resource challenges. Grantees leverage the federal investment by at least a one-to-one match.
NRCS understands the importance of supporting historically underserved, new and beginning and military veteran producers in farming and ranching. These producers are a part of the fabric of American agriculture and our communities. Annually, a portion of CIG funding is set aside for projects that support these producers.
How To Apply
National Competition - A CIG funding notice is announced each year. Funds for single or multi-year projects, not to exceed three years, are awarded through a nationwide competitive grants process. Projects may be watershed-based, regional, multi-state or nationwide in scope. The natural resource concerns eligible for funding through CIG are identified in the funding announcement and may change annually to focus on new and emerging, high priority natural resource concerns.
National Competition CIG On Farm Trials - Authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill, On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials support more widespread adoption of innovative approaches, practices and systems on working lands. On-Farm Trials projects feature collaboration between NRCS and partners to implement on-the-ground conservation activities and then evaluate their impact. Incentive payments are provided to producers to offset the risk of implementing innovative approaches.
The Soil Health Demonstration Trial (SHD) component of On-Farm Trials focuses exclusively on implementation of conservation practices and systems that improve soil health. Eligible entities receiving SHD awards agree to follow consistent soil health assessment protocols to evaluate the impacts of practice and system implementation. The NRCS Soil Health Technical Note on Recommended Soil Health Indicators and Associated Laboratory Procedures provides applicants with an idea of the types of soil health indicators and assessments they will be expected to use for SHD projects. SHD projects must include a robust evaluation of the environmental and financial effects of implementing soil health management systems and practices including collecting and following, at a minimum the standard SHD dataset requirements and methods (PDF).
Up to $25 million annually is available for On-Farm Trials. Funding goes directly to partners, which in turn provide technical assistance and incentive payments to producers to implement innovative approaches on their lands. Producers receiving On-Farm Trials payments must be eligible to participate in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The maximum On-Farm Trials award for 2020 is $5 million. The minimum award is $250,000.
Statewide CIG - In addition to the nationwide grants competition, the State component of CIG is available in select States each year. The State component emphasizes projects that have a goal of providing benefits within a limited geographic area. Projects may be farm-based, multi-county, small watershed, or Statewide in scope. For additional information about State CIG competitions, please contact Cheryl Rice or search for the latest postings at Grants.gov.
American Farmland Trust (CA, IL, OH, NY, VA) ($509,533) - proposes to accelerate adoption of Soil Health Management Systems (SHMS) on land that farmers own and land they rent by: 1) quantifying the economic, soil health, water quality, and greenhouse gas outcomes experienced by farmers who have successfully adopted SHMS, 2) publishing those findings in short, compelling case studies, 3) sharing the case studies with farmers and landowners who are curious about implementing SHMS, and 4) providing tailored technical and financial assistance that may be needed to adopt and successfully maintain SHMS.
Practical Farmers of Iowa (IL, IN, IA, MN, OH, WI) ($1,039,159) - proposes to increase demand for small grains as animal feed and cover crop seed to provide crucial secondary markets needed for farmers to increase small grain acres in the Corn Belt. The project proposes to connect food companies’ desire for increasing sustainability of their supply chains with farmer desire to grow extended rotations that include small grains. Food companies will collaborate to create market solutions to increase demand and production of small grains for animal feed and cover crop seed, positively impacting water quality, soil health and greenhouse gas emissions.
The Ohio State University ($400,111 ) (OH, KY) - The overriding goal of the agricultural energy conservation project is to run a simulation model to optimize livestock ventilation system designs and install high efficiency direct drive electronically commutated (EC) motors, sensors, and controllers on a 2,400 head swine tunnel finishing barn and a 300 head dairy farm. These demonstration sites were selected because they have been participating in an Ohio State University energy study since 2018, producing a detailed baseline energy load profile for ventilation fans on 15-minute time intervals. This baseline data will allow the research team to accurately compare the energy consumption from the two systems to validate energy conservation and estimate the cost savings potential from installing EC direct drive fan motors.
Rid-All Foundation ($888,412.50 ) (OH, MI, NM) -A group of African American, Native American, and rural-based agricultural and resource use innovators have formed a consortium–the Carboneers Collaborative–to rapidly develop community-based / community scaled appropriate technology that significantly expands the capabilities and financial viability of urban and rural regenerative agriculture practitioners. More specifically, they propose to: utilize renewable bioenergy systems to enable four-season agricultural production; produce biochar as a co-product of bioenergy system generation; and explore additional biochar applications at four (4) demonstration sites.
National CIG On-Farm Trials
Brookside Laboratories ($1,788,545) (IL, IN, MI, OH) - This project will form an On-Farm Evaluation Partnership team to demonstrate how to stimulate the adoption and evaluation of innovative conservation approaches through on-farm production-scale field trials in collaboration with agricultural producers. The On-Farm Evaluation Partnership will implement 150 enhanced efficiency fertilizer (EEF) evaluations over three cropping seasons in four states using new scientific protocol and an adaptive management approach.
National Fish and Wildlife Foundation ($5,000,000) (IN, MI, OH, NY, PA, TX, NM, KS, NE, ID,UT) - NFWF will assist Danone in building holistic soil health management systems across its current enrolled farms and others as it looks to expand to producers to reach approximately 100,000 acres of its total dairy supply chain. Soil health practices include, but are not limited to cover crops, improved conservation tillage, nutrient management, crop rotations and vegetative buffers. NFWF and Danone realize that optimizing soil health management may require variations in techniques for producers based on different growing regions. The goal is to build systems of management practices in partnership with farms across different growing regions, to best assess the potential for return on investment (ROI) and environmental outcomes. NFWF and Danone will work together to build holistic soil health management systems to include a variety of regenerative practices such as reduced tillage, cover crops, crop rotation, nutrient management, irrigation efficiency, and field buffers.
North Carolina State University ($2,003,778) (VT, NH, PA, MD, OH, VA, TN, NC, SC, GA, FL, AL, MS, AK, WI, IN, SD, KS, NE, OK, TX, MS) - This project adds new row crop farms to an existing network of producers in an online co-learning environment integrating technology, real-time data flow (aggregation, analytics, and visualization), and decision support tools to promote the use of soil health management principles including carbon storage, nitrogen cycling, and water infiltration and storage.
Water Resources Management Group ($1,967,200) (IL, OH, WI) - This project investigates a variety of innovative conservation approaches directly related to soil health and the use of cover crops, through robust on-farm demonstrations at the plot, replicated strip, field, and paired-basin scale. Approaches have been designed through iterative discussion with six farmer watershed groups to match issues and challenges particular to their geographic region and production systems. Innovative approaches identified include, but are not limited to, on farm trial/demonstration of: i) new commercial technology (Penn State Interseeder); ii) farmer construct/protype interseeder; iii) alternative management systems (mechanical suppression – rolling) and interseeded living mulch; iv) variable row spacing and plant population number in standing crops (aid in the establishment/reduce competition between cover and crop); v) termination of cover crops in organic grazing systems; vi) split manure application (spring and fall) to standing cover crops with minimal soil disturbance for large dairy operations in Northern climates; and vii) general investigations of cover crop species and mixtures for northern climates.
American Farmland Trust (Ohio) - AFT is launching a project to improve water quality in the Upper Scioto River Watershed focused on changing the form of phosphorus fertilizer applied by farmers and thereby eliminating an unessential nitrogen application in the fall. With funding from the Ohio NRCS CIG, AFT will incentivize agricultural producers in the watershed to switch fertilizers. AFT hopes to significantly reduce nitrate loading and improve the drinking water in the watershed and downstream communities, including the cities of Columbus and Marysville, as well as improve the water quality of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers ultimately improving the hypoxic dead zone in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
Bowling Green State University (Ohio) - This project will explore the technical feasibility and commercial viability of using an innovative multi-species aquaponics system to convert nutrients in agricultural drainage systems into marketable products (e.g., tilapia, bait crayfish, and crops) while reducing nutrient discharge to waterways in the Western Lake Erie Basin.
Central State University (Ohio) - In this project, CSU expects to apply the well-studied manure application practice in agriculture to hemp production and evaluate and demonstrate the soil health and water quality benefits while maximizing crop yield. The project findings will inform decision making involving manure application in hemp production and will communicate the outputs and outcomes of the project to licensed hemp growers in Ohio through field days and workshops.
Sunny Meadows Flower Farm (Ohio) ($74,984) - This project will demonstrate a system developed for a small-scale sustainable farm to optimize greenhouse management for cut flower production, especially for winter growing in Ohio's challenging climate. Data will be evaluated during the strategic transition from a manual ventilation system to a more efficient automated, passive ventilation system with a focus on humidity, temperature, and moisture control. Through adoption of these holistic systems, and by using soil steam sterilization and Integrated Pest Management (IPM), growers can implement smart investments to scale while simultaneously decreasing the pressure from diseases and increasing plant and soil health. With a focus on soil and plant health and trying to grow organically, a plan will be created for others to follow, utilizing an automated ventilation system including ridge vents, a weather station, and humidity sensors. In addition, these methods decrease chemical inputs and improve plant resiliency and yields, while maintaining the profitability of farming operations.
Clermont SWCD (Ohio) ($66,015) - This project will develop and promote an innovative approach for planting cover crops through work with local producers to modify harvesting equipment to enable them to plant cover crops while harvesting. Using this innovative planting method and combined with other practices such as nutrient management and fertilizer application using variable rate technology, Clermont SWCD will share this technique through multiple field days, fact sheets, an interactive website and social media campaigns. Fields to be planted include an existing edge-of-field monitoring site and several with a long-term monitoring station. These, combined with other locations monitored by the East Fork Watershed Cooperative, will allow the project team to document nutrient load reductions resulting from the project.