The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has launched an Agriculture Innovation Agenda, designating resources, programs and research to support American agriculture in meeting future global demands. This innovation effort is in service of its 2050 goal to reduce the environmental footprint of U.S. agriculture by half while increasing production by 40 percent. On April 28, the USDA announced a $15 million investment through its Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program to help support the implementation of new conservation approaches on agricultural lands. The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is accepting grant proposals through June 29, 2020, and applications must be submitted through Grants.gov (https://www.grants.gov/web/grants/view-opportunity.html?oppId=326614). Eligible projects would inspire creative problem-solving solutions that boost production on farms, ranches and private forests while improving natural resources in the areas of water reuse, water quality, air quality, energy and wildlife habitat.
In addition to CIG supporting early pilot projects of promising conservation approaches, there will be $25 million available for On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials. This is an entirely separate CIG component drawn from the 2018 Farm Bill, which includes a Soil Health Demonstration Trial. The USDA welcomes state NRCS offices to fund and hold their own CIG competitions. Information on what is available at the state level can be found at each individual state’s NCRS website.
“Through Conservation Innovation Grants, we’re able to co-invest with partners on the next generation of agricultural conservation solutions,” NRCS Chief Matthew Lohr says. “Conservation Innovation Grants have helped spur new tools and technologies to conserve natural resources, build resilience in producers’ operations, and improve their bottom lines. This year will be the first time we are offering water reuse as a priority, and we’re excited to see how these projects play a role in USDA’s broader strategy for water reuse on agricultural land.”
The federal government’s National Water Reuse Action Plan considers NRCS’s CIG program an opportunity to support the development of innovative projects focusing on water reuse on private lands. The USDA is partnering with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Department of the Interior (DOI), and the Department of Energy (DOE) in the promotion of water reuse to all sectors. With the additional emphasis on water reuse this year, winners of the 2020 grants are sure to bring about significant progress in reaching that 2050 goal.