WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2014 – On a visit today to a western Illinois farm, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced $15.7 million in new conservation projects through the Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) program.

This year’s CIG grants drew nearly 400 applicants, with funding going to 47 awardees.

Vilsack says the projects, which are to be awarded in 31 states and the District of Columbia, will help develop and demonstrate cutting edge ideas to accelerate innovation in conservation of natural resources.

“These grants promote creativity and problem-solving efforts that benefit farmers and ranchers and protect our natural resources,” Vilsack said. “They’re critical in sparking new ideas and techniques for conservation on America’s private lands and improving the environment.”

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.

At the Illinois corn and soybean farm owned by David and Tamara Erickson and their sons, Nicholas and Bradley, the Secretary saw soil conservation practices including “no till” and grassed waterways to reduce runoff. He viewed soil cores which demonstrate the benefits of efforts to improve soil health.

About half of the grants announced today support the agency’s priority of getting more conservation on the ground by improving soil health in the U.S.

The Ericksons have a five-year Conservation Stewardship Program contract with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and have also received technical assistance from NRCS.

The National Corn Growers Association will receive almost $1 million to promote soil management practices aimed at improving productivity, profitability and environmental outcomes in seven states. The National Association of Conservation Districts will receive $750,000 to fund a project to significantly increase the number of farmed acres nationwide that are successfully managed for soil health.
Other organizations, tribes and academic institutions will also receive funding for conservation projects.

Among grant recipients are the following: The University of California will receive almost $229,000 for the second phase of a project to support using native bees to supplement crop pollination. Montana State University will receive $50,000 to study ways to improve sage grouse chick and brood survival.

The University of Missouri will receive almost $368,000 to work on an energy recovery system that field tests show could reduce energy consumption in poultry houses by 40-50 percent. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University will receive almost $382,000 to continue to develop procedures to improve soil health and increase the acreage being managed with conservation tillage practices.

In Arizona, the Navajo Nation will receive over $28,000 for mule deer conservation efforts, and the First Nations Development Institute will receive almost $69,000 to develop a conservation planning process, led by Navajo livestock producers on the Navajo Reservation.

A full list of recipients is available on the NRCS website. A new search tool is available on the website provides information about past CIG project awards. Additional information on the grant program is available on the USDA’s Conservation Innovation Grants webpage.

Since 2004, the USDA has invested $200 million in 540 CIG grants. With the 50/50 non-federal match program, the awards over the past decade total $400 million.

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