USDA awards funds to improve conservation on agricultural lands

Farm Forum

Huron (NRCS) – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the award of 33 Conservation Innovation Grants awarded to entities across the nation to develop and demonstrate cutting-edge ideas to accelerate private lands conservation. Grant recipients will demonstrate innovative approaches to improve soil health, conserve energy, manage nutrients and enhance wildlife habitat in balance with productive agricultural systems. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) administers this competitive grants program.

“Conservation Innovation Grants activate creativity and problem-solving to benefit conservation-minded farmers and ranchers,” Vilsack said. “These grants are critical for developing and demonstrating new ideas for conservation on America’s private lands and strengthening rural communities. Everyone relies on our nation’s natural resources for food, fiber, and clean water and will benefit from these grants.”

“The Conservation Innovation Grant program brings together the strength and innovation of the private and non-profit sectors, academia, producers, and others to develop and test cutting-edge conservation tools and technologies and work side-by-side with producers to demonstrate how solutions work on the land,” NRCS Chief Jason Weller said.

As climate changes, extreme weather events are becoming more common, these partnership grants drive cutting-edge conservation techniques that can make our nation’s landscape more resilient to these changes.

The awards total $13.3 million. Six of the approved grants support conservation technologies and approaches to help farmers and ranchers who historically have not had equal access to agricultural programs because of race or ethnicity, or who have limited resources, or who are beginning farmers and ranchers.

One CIG Grant including South Dakota is the Conservation Technology Information Center (Iowa, Ill., Ind., Mich., Ohio, Minn., S.D.) funding of $482,000 for Economic, agronomic and environmental benefits of cover crops for new and established users.

Cover crops help to gain multiple conservation and sustainability benefits, including the protection and improvement of soil and water quality and improvement of wildlife and pollinator habitat. This project will draw on data from a wide variety of cover crops planted in seven Midwest states – Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, southern Minnesota and South Dakota.

Additional grants were awarded in South Dakota through a state-level CIG component with funding totaling almost $150,000 for two projects:

(1). Deep Well Water Treatment Facility Development: Awarded to the Corson Conservation District to demonstrate the effectiveness of alternative methods of improving poor quality groundwater sources used for livestock consumption and document the economic viability of these methods. Three deep water wells with poor quality drinking water will be treated to make it suitable for livestock consumption. The proposal will encompass 3 livestock cooperators in Corson, Dewey and Ziebach Counties. This innovative proposal will incorporate new technology of applying a treatment system. The objective will be to bring suitable water to livestock at a reasonable cost. This practice has not been used in South Dakota to treat livestock water at this scale. The total cost of the project is $182,620 with $75,000 being requested from the Conservation Innovation Grant program that would be combined with $107,620 of matching funds from cooperator cash and in-kind.

(2). Conservation Drainage Practices to Remove Nitrate from Tile Drain Water: The overall objective for this project is to demonstrate the use of Drainage Water Management and saturated buffers as a tool for subsurface drainage water management and assist producers in the decision making process regarding tile drain installation, conservation drainage systems design and cost. The long-term goal is to develop, evaluate, compare, and transfer different conservation drainage practices that can be implemented by producers to maintain the benefits of agricultural subsurface drainage while minimizing unwanted environmental impacts. The total cost of the project is $149,998 with $74,998 being requested from the Conservation Innovation Grant program that would be combined with $75,000 of matching funds from cooperator cash and in-kind. The lead entity of this project is South Dakota Water Resources Institute-Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, South Dakota State University.

“This grant competition is an excellent opportunity to help farmers and ranchers improve environmental health through innovative approaches,” said Jeff Zimprich, South Dakota State Conservationist with NRCS.

A full list of recipients is available at

XDSuKz. The grants are funded through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Grantees must work with producers and forestland owners to develop and demonstrate the new technologies and approaches. At least 50 percent of the total cost of CIG projects must come from non-federal matching funds, including cash and in-kind contributions provided by the grant recipient.

Secretary Vilsack said this announcement is another reminder of the importance of USDA programs to rural America. A comprehensive five-year Food, Farm and Jobs Bill would further expand the rural economy, Vilsack added, saying that is just one reason why Congress must get a comprehensive Bill done as soon as possible.

For more on this grant program, visit USDA’s Conservation Innovation Grants webpage or contact your local NRCS office.