WASHINGTON, Jan. 26, 2015 - USDA is offering up to $20 million in grant funding through the Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) program for carbon credit project proposals.

"USDA has been a leader in supporting market-based solutions to improve water quality and reduce carbon pollution," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a press release. "With this opportunity, we are supporting the next generation of projects that will help mature these markets and bring them to scale to benefit both producers and the environment.”

Approximately half of the $20 million of funding will be available in 2015 for CIG projects awarded to environmental markets and conservation finance initiatives that engage farmers and ranchers specifically, USDA said. 

The winning proposals will build on the initial work past CIG initiatives were able to accomplish by using improved quantification tools, multi-resource crediting, and leveraged private investment to encourage maturation and scaling of new and existing carbon credit markets.

To date, the CIG program has funded a host of ground-breaking projects in private lands conservation.

For example, in the Ohio River Basin, CIG funded the Electric Power Research Institute’s proposal to create the first interstate water quality trading program. Today, farmers can buy and sell water quality credits at auction within the basin.

CIG also funded a Delta Institute project in the Midwest that built a system for trading nitrous oxide credits which ultimately proved greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced without negatively impacting corn yields.

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The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will accept pre-proposals from non-governmental organizations, tribes or individual applicants until Feb. 24, and will later invite qualifying applicants to submit full proposals.

In their pre-proposals, applicants may address natural resource improvements in water quality, soil health, wildlife habitat, or a different, but applicable area of concern, including improvements related to the fields of economics or sociology.  

They may also include descriptions of how historically underserved producers, veterans, and/or organic producers will benefit from their project.

Applicants should note that the 2014 Farm Bill eliminated a past requirement that mandated applicants provide half of their federal funding match in cash, and expanded eligibility for projects that address historically underserved producers.