Conservation Innovation Grants for Agriculture – Classic Program

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has announced program funding for the Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) Classic program for Federal fiscal year (FY) 2021. Approximately $15 million is available with applications due online by 11:59 pm Eastern Time on July 19, 2021.

What is the purpose of Conservation Innovation Grants Classic Program?

The purpose of CIG is 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, into technical manuals and guides, or to the private sector. CIG generally funds pilot projects, field demonstrations, and on-farm conservation research. On-farm conservation research means 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.

Who is eligible to apply?

All U.S.-based non-Federal entities (NFE) and individuals, with the exception of Federal agencies, are eligible to apply for projects carried out in the United States. “U.S.-based” includes any of the 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).

All CIG projects must involve EQIP-eligible producers that meet EQIP’s eligibility requirements listed in 7 CFR 1466.6(b)(1) through (3):
  • Be in compliance with the highly erodible land and wetland conservation provisions (7 CFR Part 12).
  • Be a person, legal entity, joint operation, Indian Tribe, or Native Corporation who is engaged in agricultural production or forestry management or has an interest in the agricultural or forestry operation as defined in 7 CFR Part 1400.
  • Have control of the land involved for the term of the proposed contract period.
What types of projects are eligible?
CIG funds the 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:
  • Comply with all applicable Federal, Tribal, State, and local laws and regulations throughout the duration of the project,
  • 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.
For fiscal year 2021, NRCS is accepting proposals that address one or more of the priorities listed below:
  1. Water Resources and Increased Resilience: Climate-Smart Strategies – Examples include:
    • Concepts that can eventually lead to transformative on-farm production system or land use changes, such as shifting from annual to perennial systems to decrease soil erosion.
    • Modifying current crop rotation strategies to better fit new climatic conditions, such as shifts to crops that use less water or are tolerant of wet conditions.
    • Developing new, adopting locally unknown, or applying known structural technologies in a new way to deal with climate induced seasonal water changes. New technologies or techniques could detain water on the land in production for use during a dry season, improve groundwater recharge, or reduce runoff during wet seasons.
  2. Soil Health: Climate Mitigation, Adaptation, and Resilience - Proposals submitted under this priority must address one of the two following sub-priorities:
    • Carbon Sequestration
    • Climate Resilience
  3. Nutrient Management – Examples include:
    • Technologies and approaches that address offsite nutrient loss at the farm level by implementing more innovative and prescriptive ideas in nutrient management planning to address site-specific conditions more effectively.
    • Regionally impactful innovative conservation solutions for private land such as water quality trading programs, innovative conservation finance solutions, or new technologies demonstrated at a community level.
    • New collaborations such as farmer-led partnerships or rural-urban partnerships.
  4. Grazing Lands Conservation – Examples include:
    • Diagnostic sensors and other innovative tools, such as sensors, drones, or other tools developed to measure water quality, air quality, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, rangeland health attributes, and other ecosystem services on grazing lands.
    • Newer, nontraditional, innovative methods that address prescriptive/targeted livestock management strategies that reduce wildfire risk, decrease noxious weed populations (such as cheatgrass, medusahead, and African wiregrass), improve critical riparian and wetland habitat areas, minimize drought impacts, and provide options for nontraditional winter-feeding management practices.
    • New methods that couple forage and animal production systems that can accurately establish preferred timing, duration, and frequency of animal use with implemented restoration practices to maintain and enhance newly restored grazing lands.
    • Exploration of forages with improved nutrient content and digestibility, forages that can be successfully and easily established with the potential for use as cover crops, or forages that can provide sustenance to animals outside of the traditional grazing season.
    • Demonstration of innovative technology such as data processing logistics or the viability of 3D modeling.
  5. Increasing Conservation Adoption. Proposals submitted under this priority area must address one of the following two sub-priorities:
    • Social Science and Producer/Landowner Decision-Making
    • Conservation Finance and Incentives
What are the funding levels for this program?

The total estimated funding for this program is $15 million. The minimum award amount is $300,000 with a maximum award amount of $2 million.  

Is there a match requirement or cost sharing?

A minimum contribution of 50 percent of the total project costs (includes Federal and non-Federal portion) is required, except for applicants competing for the Historically Underserved funding. Cost sharing may be achieved with contributions of cash, services, materials, equipment, or third-party in-kind contributions.

What is the grant program timeline?

Applications are due by 11:59 pm Eastern Time on July 19, 2021. Projects may be from one to three years in duration. Applicants should plan their projects based on an estimate project start date of March 1, 2022.

The Notice for Funding Opportunity can be found here.

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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