USDA Seeks Applications for Conservation Innovation Grants Classic Program

The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) is announcing the availability of up to $15 million in Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) funding to stimulate the development and adoption of innovative conservation approaches and technologies in conjunction with agricultural production. CIG projects are expected to lead to the transfer of conservation technologies, management systems, and innovative approaches (such as market-based systems) to agricultural producers through the development of technical manuals, guides and for practical instruction for the private sector.

What is the purpose of this grant opportunity? The purpose of CIG is to stimulate the development and adoption of innovative conservation approaches and technologies in conjunction with agricultural production. CIG projects present innovations that are  expected to result in the transfer of conservation technologies, management systems, and inventive approaches to agricultural producers (such as market-based systems) into technical manuals and guides and to be used in the private sector. CIG generally funds pilot projects, field demonstrations, and on-farm conservation research. On-farm conservation research is defined as an investigation conducted to answer a specific applied conservation question using a statistically valid design while employing farm-scale equipment on farms, ranches, or private forest lands.

CIG funds development and field testing, on-farm research and demonstration, evaluation, or implementation of approaches to incentivizing conservation adoption, including market-based and conservation finance approaches; and conservation technologies, practices, and systems.

Projects or activities under CIG must use a technology or approach that was studied sufficiently to indicate a high probability for success;  demonstrate, evaluate, and verify the effectiveness, utility, affordability, and usability of natural resource conservation technologies and approaches in the field; adapt and transfer conservation technologies, management practices, systems, approaches, and incentive systems to improve performance and encourage adoption; and introduce proven conservation technologies and approaches to a geographic area or agricultural sector where that technology or approach is not currently in use.

What are the program priorities for 2023? For FY 2023, NRCS is only accepting proposals that address one or more of the following priorities:

  • Forestry. This priority area will accept proposals for climate smart forestry and agroforestry in one of the following two areas: a) agroforestry (alley cropping, silvopasture, forest farming or multistory cropping, riparian forest buffers, and windbreaks shelterbelts) that integrates trees into crop and livestock systems to address conservation needs, increase carbon storage, and build sustainable agricultural systems; and b) selecting native tree species adapted to climate shifts.
  • Habitat Conservation and Restoration for Wildlife and Invertebrates. This priority is focused on innovations to identify, improve, and expand habitats for wildlife and native beneficial invertebrate populations critical for ecosystems, agriculture, or other natural resource services. Higher priority will be given to projects that have a large impact on invertebrate conservation or can leverage other resource opportunities that have stackable conservation benefits.
  • Managing Agricultural Lands to Improve Local Water Quality. NRCS seeks creative, integrated solutions to address specific water quality improvement or protection goals at a local water resource level (e.g., locality, soil and water conservation district, sub-watershed, or groundwater recharge area). Proposals submitted under this priority area will apply strategies, operational processes, and decision support tools to a) identify and address nutrient reduction goals at a local water resource level and tie those reduction goals to conservation and management at the field level (and vice versa), and b) provide comprehensive, site-specific nutrient loss risk assessments and management plans for specific water quality improvements or the desired outcomes at the local water resource level.
  • Energy Conservation. NRCS seeks proposals for approaches to conserve energy for agricultural producers that help them achieve (or get closer to) energy self-sufficiency (i.e., net zero energy).
  • Economics. This priority area will find synergies with practices that already exist and assess the financial and environmental benefits to those synergies. The innovation will be in the compounding of practices that are not currently combined.
  • Strengthening Conservation through Indigenous Knowledge. The attention of this priority area is innovative ideas that can increase conservation in the United States based on indigenous knowledge, priorities and perspectives. Priority will be given to projects that address  conservation needs for tribal and other indigenous lands.

What entities are eligible to apply for CIG O-Farm Trials? This opportunity is open to all domestic non-Federal entities and individuals based in the United States for projects carried out in the United States. “Based in the United States” includes all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Caribbean Area (Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands), and the Pacific Islands Area (Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands).

What are the anticipated award levels and match requirements for CIG On-Farm Trials? The funding floor for this opportunity is $250,000, and the funding ceiling is $2 million. This NFO requires applicants to share 50 percent of total project costs. Cost sharing may be achieved with contributions of cash, services, materials, equipment, or third-party in-kind contributions. Recipients with unrecovered indirect costs may also use those to meet cost-sharing obligations.

What is the award timeline? Applications are due on October 30, 2023. The agency anticipates making selections by January 15, 2024 and expects to execute awards by May 31, 2024; these dates are estimates and are subject to change.

The full Request for Concept Proposals can be found here.

Morrison has extensive experience writing successful applications for clients for USDA programs. For more information on this grant or how to apply with Morrison’s assistance, please contact the Morrison Grants Team by email at or call us at 530-893-4764.


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