Secretary Vilsack Highlights Innovative Conservation Efforts

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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack


Conservation Innovation Grants to help improve technologies and approaches for natural resource conservation

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today the award of $15.7 million in Conservation Innovation Grants (CIGs) to 47 organizations that will help develop and demonstrate cutting-edge ideas to accelerate innovation in private lands conservation. The Secretary made the announcement while visiting a farm in Illinois.

“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 announced today 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.

Vilsack made the announcement while visiting a corn and soybean farm owned by David and Tamara Erickson and their sons, Nicholas and Bradley. The Ericksons have a five-year Conservation Stewardship Program contract with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and have also received technical assistance from NRCS. 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.

The National Corn Growers Association and the National Association of Conservation Districts, both involved with conservation activities in Illinois, are receiving grant awards to demonstrate the use of best management practices such as conservation tillage, cover crops and advanced nutrient management to address soil health concerns. Almost half of the grants announced today support the agency’s priority of getting more conservation on the ground by improving the health of our nation’s soils. 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 (including Illinois) that are successfully managed for soil health.

Other organizations, tribes and academic institutions will receive funding for conservation projects. For example, 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.

Seven 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.

A full list of recipients is available here:

Entities in the following States were selected for awards: Ala., Alaska, Ariz., Ark., Calif., Colo., Fla., Ga., Hawaii, Idaho, Ill., Ind., Iowa, Kan., La., Minn., Miss., Mont., Mo., N.C., N.D., Neb., N.Y., Ohio, Okla., Ore., Penn., S.C., Tenn., Texas, Utah, Va., Vt., W.Va., Wash., Wis., and also the District of Columbia.

Soil health is the foundation and future of sustainable agriculture, enabling producers to fare better against drought and other climatic extremes while increasing production. They have greater water holding capacity, increase water infiltration, reduce soil erosion, decrease soil compaction, improve crop productivity, and improve our natural resource condition.

NRCS has offered this grant program since 2004, investing in ways to demonstrate and transfer efficient and environmentally friendly farming and ranching. In the past years, the grants have helped develop trading markets for water quality and have shown how farmers and ranchers may use fertilizer, water and energy more efficiently. Since 2009 through this year’s funding, 323 projects were or are slated to be awarded for a total $126 million investment in novel conservation.

To enhance the value and adoption of previous CIG results, a new search tool is available on the website for past awarded projects.

For more on this grant program, visit USDA’s Conservation Innovation Grants webpage.

The announcement of today’s funding was made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve the quality of life in rural America. For more information, visit