The deadline to submit pre-proposals for up to $1 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Innovation Grants is quickly approaching. Eligible state and local governments, federally-recognized Indian tribes, non-governmental organizations and individuals in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Caribbean Area and the Pacific Islands area must submit their pre-proposals by Feb. 24, 2015.

CIG funding this year can be used to help create innovative markets for carbon credits, provide additional revenue sources for producers and address natural resource conservation challenges. Approximately half of the $20 million total CIG funding is available for environmental markets and conservation finance projects that engage agricultural producers. USDA is seeking projects that will help mature environmental markets for water quality and greenhouse gases and bring them to scale to benefit both producers and the environment.

In past years, CIG has helped fund the development of the basic infrastructure of these markets. This year, USDA is seeking applications for projects that will further these efforts by maturing and scaling markets and increasing efforts to leverage private capital and investment in private lands conservation. Improved quantification tools, multi-resource crediting, and projects that substantively engage corporate or financial partners are activities that interest USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). NRCS administers CIG.

USDA is also soliciting proposals for projects to stimulate natural resource improvements, including improvements in water quantity, soil health, and wildlife habitat.  Applications from this funding pool may also emphasize expected benefits to historically underserved producers, veterans, and organic producers.  USDA also will accept applications in economics and sociology as they relate to natural resources. 

Through CIG, USDA use Environmental Quality Incentives Program funds to award competitive grants to non-Federal governmental or nongovernmental organizations, Indian tribes, or individuals. The 2014 Farm Bill also included language that has led to some changes in this year’s CIG funding announcement.  One change eliminates the requirement that half the applicant’s match must be in cash. Another expands eligibility for the 10 percent set-aside provision for historically underserved producers.

As in prior years, NRCS will accept pre-proposals for initial review before inviting entities to submit full proposals. Pre-proposals are due Tuesday, February 24, 2015. The full announcement of program funding is available at http://go.usa.gov/4Kvx. To apply electronically, visit http://www.grants.gov or contact a local NRCS office.