By Buz Kloot
Producers and partners, please be aware that the USDA-NRCS in South Dakota has announced a Request for Proposals (RFP) for 2023 Conservation Innovation Grants. The deadline is June 2023, so you may want to jump on it. The grants are up to $150,000 each and the horizon of the grant is over 3 years.
Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG’s) are intended to apply innovative ideas to the test on farms and ranches as demonstrations. This doesn’t mean that one can’t do science, but it can’t be the sort of multiple replication work one may see on an extension or ARS research farm. There is always a strong outreach component that requires recipients to do field days (there is no shortage of partners who are really skilled at outreach), and adding a social media component is always a good idea.
Usually, this sort of collaboration involves partnerships between the producer and organizations like the conservation districts, and grassroots organizations (e.g., SDGrass and SD Soil Health, amongst others); researchers are a bonus, but not a must. In my opinion, a good design and a skilled technician/professional would be a good fit. The grassroots organizations, researchers/professionals/technicians are usually skilled in writing grants, but willing (and excited) producers are key to the collaboration.
As someone who has been able to take advantage of these grants in the past, monitoring soil properties (e.g., chemistry, organic matter, infiltration) in response to a management change could be very attractive to the funder. Management change might include livestock integration, cover crops, changing to no-till, reducing pasture/paddock size and rotating to increase rest, I am sure there are many more examples.
Right now, I would say that any sort of practice or innovation that increases soil organic matter (and where you measure that soil organic matter changes over time) would probably be favored by the agency since one of the big push this year is “climate-smart” practices. You don’t have to like the “climate-smart” term, but we can all agree that getting more organic matter (about 58% carbon) into the soil is good for the producer, good for the environment and I would argue, good for the plants and animals.
Through my own experience in this funding mechanism, allowable costs include salaries, transport, materials and supplies for field work (markers, sample bags, samplers, snips, poly wire, reels, posts etc.), soil tests and or lab supplies for researchers, seed (a big draw for the producer, right?), outreach materials for field days and publications.
The only drawback of this mechanism is that you need to come up with matching costs – often the involvement of the producer’s equipment and their time is a big help – the same goes for volunteer and grassroots organizations where staff salaries can be a match.
I think this is a great opportunity to generate excitement, innovation, and collaboration between producers, grassroots organizations researchers, and would strongly recommend that if you are in the regenerative ag space, this is a great opportunity.
Please note that I don’t speak for the USDA, these are just my own thoughts based on my experience at getting these grants, the final determinant is the Request for Proposals (RFP).
If you are interested in writing a grant, I’d be happy to discuss some thoughts and ideas with you. We do have a number of scopes of work that measure soil response to management change that we’d be happy to share with you. Feel free to reach out to me, Buz Kloot, at email@example.com, and let’s see if we can be of help. Go Soils!
Visit these “Growing Resilience Through Our Soils” information pages:
1. Podcast page for drought planning fact sheets, Q&As, news, podcasts and more.
2. Video page to watch videos of other ranchers’ journeys toward improved rangeland/pasture.
3.Follow Growing Resilience on social media:
4. Our homepage: www.growingresiliencesd.com