Funds for On-Farm Trials Promoting Conservation & Innovation

The United States Department of Food and Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has announced program funding for the Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials (On-Farm Trials) for Federal fiscal year (FY) 2021. Approximately $25 million is available for the California program with applications due by 11:59pm Eastern Time on June 21, 2021

What is the purpose of Conservation Innovation Grants Program?

The purpose of On-Farm Trials is to stimulate the adoption and evaluation of innovative conservation approaches in partnership with agricultural producers. For 2021, NRCS is implementing On-Farm Trials through eligible entities, which in turn work collaboratively with NRCS and agricultural producers to implement innovative approaches on private lands. On-Farm Trials supports the implementation of innovative approaches that have a positive conservation impact but which, for any number of reasons, have not yet been adopted by producers.

Who is eligible to apply?
Eligibility for this opportunity is limited to the following entity types:
  1. City or township governments
  2. County governments
  3. For profit organizations other than small businesses
  4. Native American tribal governments (Federally recognized)
  5. Native American tribal organizations (other than Federally recognized tribal governments)
  6. Nonprofits having a 501(c)(3) status with the IRS (other than institutions of higher education)
  7. Private institutions of higher education
  8. Public and State-controlled institutions of higher education
  9. Small businesses
  10. Special district governments
  11. State governments

For-profit entities are eligible for On-Farm Trials if their primary business is related to agriculture. Non-profit entities are eligible for On-Farm Trials if they have experience working with agricultural producers.

What types of projects are eligible?
Each year, NRCS identifies priority topics for On-Farm Trials. For FY 2021, On-Farm Trials applications must address one of the four priorities described below. Proposals may address more than one priority, but each proposal must clearly identify a primary priority.
  1. Irrigation Management Technologies. NRCS seeks On-Farm Trials proposals to evaluate innovative water management systems that enhance a producer’s ability to monitor irrigation needs effectively, manage irrigation practices efficiently, and increase water savings. Innovative irrigation systems should focus on balancing producer needs with conservation benefits. Examples include:
    • Technologies that measure plant distress or soil moisture and automate irrigation through regular reporting to a centralized system.
    • Sensors that report data from weather stations or soil monitoring sensors to cloud-based systems and devices, allowing producers to assess irrigation needs remotely or from a handheld device.
    • Innovative approaches that address barriers to adoption of irrigation management systems. These barriers may include substantial upfront costs of system installation, accessibility of systems (i.e., availability for purchase at mainstream retailers), ease of installation and the need for system customization.
  2. Climate Smart Agricultural Solutions. NRCS seeks On-Farm Trials applications that evaluate innovative on-farm approaches to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases or enhancing soil carbon and perennial biomass sequestration. Examples include:
    • Technologies that provide GHG-reducing energy savings to producers, including the use of renewable resources to support the application of a conservation practice.
    • Animal manure management and conservation approaches that reduce GHG emissions to the atmosphere or convert methane to carbon dioxide.
    • Animal dietary management that reduces enteric methane emissions to the atmosphere.
    • Innovative animal production systems that reduce GHG emissions.
    • Implementation of grazing management systems that enhance carbon sequestration in pasture and rangelands.
    • Cropland management systems that reduce nitrous oxide emissions.
    • Utilization of enhanced efficiency fertilizers to deliver nitrous oxide emission reductions.
    • Rice methane emission reduction strategies, including water management techniques.
    • Windbreak, shelterbelt, hedgerow and other perennial biomass installations that sequester carbon in soils and biomass while providing pollinator habitat co-benefits.
    • Transitions of organic soils and histosols to perennial biomass installations, reducing carbon dioxide oxidation and providing the co-benefit of reducing subsidence.
  3. Management Technologies and Strategies. NRCS seeks On-Farm Trials applications that evaluate approaches that help producers effectively manage production systems while achieving conservation benefits through more efficient application and management. Examples include:
    • Innovative precision agriculture technologies that have been field-validated and have proven stakeholder support. Such innovations should focus on technologies that provide accurate, real-time data to producers and increase their ability to efficiently manage nutrients and pests.
    • Precision conservation installations that demonstrate the conservation and carbon sequestration value of marginally-productive crop and grazing lands, including potholes and wet soils.
    • Enhanced nutrient management plans, including plans accounting for differences beyond yield potential and soil type, such as soil organic matter, soil biological activity, tillage regime, field drainage/drainage management, irrigation management, and seasonal effects of weather events.
    • Remote sensing technologies that assist in pesticide application.
    • Differential pesticide spraying technologies and technologies that reduce drift of applied pesticides.
    • Nutrient recovery systems such as bioreactors and multistage drainage strategies to mitigate nutrient losses.
    • Whole-farm nutrient budgets that account for all nutrient imports and exports of an operation.
    • Technologies maximizing role of smart machines (such as row robots, etc.) in weed control.
  4. Soil Health Demonstration Trial (SHD). The SHD are on-farm demonstrations of long-term, successful Soil Health Management Systems (SHMS) and/or production systems being transitioned to a SHMS managed by agricultural producers. A SHMS is a collection of management practices that focuses on increasing soil carbon levels and improving soil health by addressing all four soil health management principles: 1) minimize disturbance, 2) maximize soil cover, 3) maximize biodiversity, and 4) maximize presence of living roots.
What are the funding levels for this program?

The total estimated funding for this program is $25 million, with at least $10 million intended for awards made under SHD. The minimum award amount is $250,000 with a maximum award amount of $5 million per agreement awarded.  

Is there a match a match requirement or cost sharing?

A minimum contribution of 25 percent of the total Federal funds requested is required in the form of value-added matching funds that leverage and complement the potential NRCS investment.

Matching funds may be committed by the applicant, project partners, or both and can be any combination of cash and in-kind contributions.

What is the grant program timeline?

Applications are due by 11:59pm Eastern Time on June 21, 2021. The agency anticipates announcing or notifying successful and unsuccessful applicants in October 2021 and expects to have Federal awards in place by January 15, 2022.

The Notice of 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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