USDA is seeking proposals for grants to improve water quality, air quality and promote energy conservation in key U.S. watersheds. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is making available $25 million through the Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program to address natural resource concerns nationwide with a special emphasis on the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and the Mississippi River Basin.

Now in its eighth year, the CIG program offers funding dedicated to the adoption of technologies to address a broad range of agricultural issues. Past examples include:

  • The Michigan Department of Agriculture worked with Michigan State University and agricultural landowners to establish conservation practices for high-risk erosion areas, with a goal of reducing sediment and nutrient runoff.

  • Coaltec Energy USA, Inc. demonstrated that energy can be extracted from chicken litter to heat poultry houses. Working with agricultural partners, the firm installed a gasification system on a West Virginia farm that uses poultry litter as fuel. The system significantly reduced fuel costs for the producer.
Successful applicants will demonstrate that their projects use innovative, on-the-ground conservation approaches and technologies. Funds will be awarded through a nationwide competitive grants process with applications accepted from all eligible individuals, non-federal governments and non-governmental organizations, including federally recognized tribes and private businesses.

This year, a two-phase competitive process will be implemented. All applicants are required to submit a pre-proposal as part of Phase 1. Only those applicants selected in Phase 1 will be asked to submit a full application package (Phase 2). All proposed CIG projects must involve producers who are eligible for NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which offers financial and technical assistance to help implement conservation practices on agricultural land.

The federal contribution for a single project cannot exceed $1 million. At least 50% of the total cost of the project must come from non-federal matching funds (cash and in-kind contributions) provided by the grantee. Grants are available for single- or multi-year projects, but must not exceed three years. Proposed projects must comply with the description of innovative conservation projects or activities established in the Announcement for Program Funding (APF).

Pre-proposal applications must be received at the NRCS National Headquarters by close of business Dec. 28, 2010. To view the complete APF, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/. To apply electronically, visit: www.grants.gov/.