Up to $20 million in competitive grants is available through the Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced March 7.
"The Conservation Innovation Grant program has an impressive track record of fostering innovative conservation tools and strategies," said Vilsack. "Successes in the program can translate into new opportunities for historically underserved landowners, help resolve pressing water conservation challenges and leverage new investments in conservation partnerships with farmers, ranchers and other stakeholders."
Administered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), CIG is part of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and is designed to focus on innovative conservation projects that promote science-based solutions to benefit both producers and the environment. Projects may include on-farm pilot projects and field demonstrations, and are funded to accelerate the transfer and adoption of promising technologies to landowners in order to address critical natural resource concerns.
Up to $2 million of this fiscal year's CIG funding has been set aside for projects targeted to historically underserved and veteran farmers and ranchers, beginning farmers and ranchers, and those with limited resources.
USDA is also seeking CIG proposals for projects to stimulate natural resource solutions to protect or improve the quality of ground and surface water.
In 2015, NRCS made eight CIG awards for projects in the burgeoning field of conservation finance and impact investing. For 2016, USDA is seeking projects that develop additional innovative investment strategies that leverage private capital for private lands conservation. CIG funding may be used to help mitigate risk associated with new conservation investment vehicles, through the use of approaches such as first loss strategies, price floors, guarantees, buyer of last resort mechanisms or other credit enhancements. Successful proposals will demonstrate a likelihood of success and clear metrics for conservation outcomes warranting the use of public funds to support risk mitigation strategies.
CIG awards are made through a nationally competitive process. Projects may be single or multi-year, but cannot exceed three years. Projects must involve EQIP-eligible agricultural producers or landowners. At least 50 percent of the total cost of CIG projects must come from non-federal matching funds, including in-kind contributions.
A fact sheet summarizing other top CIG projects is available on the NRCS CIG website.
Applications for CIG projects are due by May 10, 2016. More information is available on the NRCS CIG website. This year's application process includes two other significant changes: an increase in the maximum award amount to $2 million, up from $1 million in 2015, and a streamlined single proposal process.