The NRCS announced the agency will award more than $22.6 million to drive public and private sector innovation in resource conservation. The agency is investing in 33 projects nationwide through its competitive Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program, which helps develop the tools, technologies and strategies to support next-generation conservation efforts on working lands and develop market-based solutions to resource challenges. Public and private grantees — including non-governmental organizations, American Indian tribes, academic institutions and local government entities — will leverage the federal investment by at least matching it.

The projects announced today focus on conservation finance and pay-for-success models to stimulate conservation adoption; data analytics for natural resources; water management technologies and approaches; and historically underserved farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners. The 2017 CIG awards bring the total NRCS investment to nearly $286.7 million for 711 projects since 2004. 

The National Audubon Society’s Conservation Ranching Program, for example, pairs private landowners with local ecologists who guide them through sustainable grazing and management practices that support healthy grasslands, vital for birds and cattle alike. Cattle owners who commit to the program can brand their beef with Audubon’s “Grazed on Bird-Friendly Land” label and sell it on a premium market for a greater return-on-investment. Through the 2017 CIG award, Audubon will scale the program from pilot sites to fully functioning, self-sustaining ranch-to-retail markets in seven western states — bringing conservation-minded producers and consumers together in the marketplace.   

“The CIG conservation finance and pay-for-success projects reward farmers, ranchers and producers who make their livelihoods on America’s working lands sustainably, through sound science and conservation principles,” says NRCS Acting Chief Leonard Jordan. “And CIG funding ensures that all producers, including new and under-represented farmers and ranchers, can benefit economically from innovative conservation tools and strategies. 

At least three CIG grants were awarded to help growers with conservation farming:

  • Clemson University will use nearly $500,000 to accelerate the adoption of farmers using deep-rooted cover crops in Georgia and South Carolina.
  • North Dakota State University was granted just over $999,000 to establish full-production scale demonstration sites that show side-by-side comparisons of tillage and cover cropping practices to help increase adoption of no-till in North and South Dakota.
  • The National Center for Appropriate Technology in Texas proposes to use just over $785,000 to address soil erosion challenges in the Lower Rio Grande Valley arising from soils left bare through the summer, and will focus on the effectiveness, practicality and profitability of cover crops and reduced tillage.

Click here to download the full list of this fiscal year’s selected projects.