WASHINGTON, Sept. 8, 2016 – USDA is investing $26.6 million in 45 projects aimed a spurring innovative conservation initiatives on both rural and urban farms across the country.

Public and private grantees will provide matching investments, bringing the total value of support to $59 million, USDA said in a release. The investment is made through USDA's Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program, which fosters innovation in conservation tools and strategies to improve things like on-farm energy and fertilizer use as well as market-based strategies to improve water quality or mitigate climate change.

The 2016 projects focus on water quality, conservation finance and assistance to historically underserved USDA customers. Approximately 25 percent of the funding announced today will go to projects that benefit historically underserved producers, military veterans, and new and beginning farmers, USDA said.

"The Conservation Innovation Grant program is a highly competitive conservation grant program that helps put the very best conservation tools to work on privately held farms and forests, for maximum environmental impact," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. "This investment will offer farmers, ranchers and forest landowners new ways to protect their natural resources and new revenue streams to keep their operations viable, building on the record amount of conservation work that has already been done under this Administration. Demand for this type of support outpaces what USDA can provide alone, but outside partners are willing to make additional investments because they see the good it can do for the environment and for their communities."

The department said that with the latest funding, it has invested nearly $173 million to help finance 414 national CIG projects since 2009. For this round of funding, USDA received 170 applications requesting more than $100 million, which far exceeded the initial funding target of approximately $20 million.

USDA said that in 2015, CIG began supporting the burgeoning field of conservation finance and impact investing to attract more private dollars to science-based conservation solutions. Of the 45 projects receiving funding today, 13 are conservation finance awards. These new projects support the design and implementation of approaches to attract private capital to working lands conservation. The selected projects address diverse natural resource issues such as pollinators; sage-grouse conservation; forest, carbon and corporate chain sustainability; and organic farming.

Below are highlights of several new projects from the three focus areas this fiscal year. Click here to see a full listing of this fiscal year's selected projects.

--Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, Inc., ($462,794)-proposes to establish several conservation investment mechanisms to help overcome barriers associated with participating in three existing mitigation banking programs in Maryland and Virginia.

--National Corn Growers Association, ($1 million)-proposes to develop a greenhouse gas insetting framework that can serve as a model for corporations and other entities to encourage conservation adoption and achieve greenhouse gas reductions and water quality benefits (Missouri).

--Tennessee State University, ($792,504)-This 1890 Historically Black Land-Grant university proposes to enhance the current Southern Nursery Industry "Guide for Best Management Practices," while recommending modifications to the USDA NRCS Conservation Practice Standards that specifically address natural resource and water-quality concerns relating to the nursery industry (Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia).

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--Resource Conservation District of Monterey County ($1,300,695)-proposes to establish a cooperative model for pooling resources to comply with water quality regulations, making conservation practices more widely applicable in high-value, irrigated agricultural lands, leading to a streamlined approach to compliance with water quality regulation in California and the development of a decision support tool to aid new cooperatives in identifying and implementing coordinated water quality improvement strategies.

--City of Chicago, ($1 million)-proposes to create an urban farming system or cohort-based model to assist farmers with a high potential to succeed in establishing businesses and prepare and place more land into land trusts or cooperative tenure arrangements. The project will expand upon and begin to measure impacts of farm site developments that balance environmental remediation, stormwater management and water conservation (Illinois).

--University of Hawaii, ($979,927)-proposes to develop an approach to optimize irrigation scheduling in intensive vegetable production systems across diverse climatic zones in the Pacific Islands (Hawaii, Guam and American Samoa).

CIG is funded through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The maximum grant is $2 million per project and the length of time for project completion is three years. The CIG projects are designed to engage EQIP-eligible producers in on-the-ground conservation activities that accelerate transfer and adoption of innovative conservation technology and approaches.


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