USDA Awards Over $22 Million in Conservation Innovation Grants (Lancaster Farming)

WASHINGTON — The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service announced last week that the agency will award more than $22.6 million to drive public and private sector innovation in resource conservation.

The agency is investing in 33 projects nationwide through its competitive Conservation Innovation Grants program, which helps develop the tools, technologies and strategies to support next-generation conservation efforts on working lands and develop market-based solutions to resource challenges.

The projects focus on conservation finance and pay-for-success models to stimulate conservation adoption; data analytics for natural resources; water management technologies and approaches; and historically underserved farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners.

Recipients included:

• Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, $600,000, for its Integrated Investment Incentives for Conservation Program.

The association will promote natural resources protection through the development of specialized loan products that stimulate and reward conservation practices. Both short-term loans and small-farm mortgage products will be made available through the Maine Harvest Credit Union.

• Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Pennsylvania, $415,341, for its Offset Partnerships: Bringing Pay for Success Models to Agricultural Conservation and Stormwater Compliance.

The foundation will demonstrate the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of using a pay-for-success approach to attract new streams of capital to implement conservation practices on agricultural lands in York and Lancaster counties.

The project will be a first-of-its-kind attempt to pilot a cost-effective-approach for municipalities to meet stormwater requirements while transferring the risks of effective implementation from local governments to impact investors.

• I2 Capital, $804,672, for its Brandywine Christina Water Fund Pay for Success Mechanism.

I2 Capital will develop a pay-for-success approach to attract private impact capital to fund conservation practices on farms in the Brandywine Christina Watershed in Delaware and Pennsylvania.

The approach would support implementation of the Water Fund, a vehicle for private investment in agricultural conservation established by the Nature Conservancy, the William Penn Foundation and the University of Delaware’s Water Resources Agency.

Upfront investments on the ground will be repaid by downstream beneficiaries — utilities and municipalities — after achievement of pre-determined environmental outcomes.

• Third Sector New England Inc., $314,026, for its Conservation Technology Outreach to Historically Underserved and Beginning Producers in Massachusetts through an Incubator Farm Training and Demonstration Model.

Third Sector New England proposes to use an incubator farm to empower 400 historically underserved and beginning farmers through educational programs and individual technical assistance.

Conservation planning, innovative technology approaches, participation in federal conservation programs and integration of conservation principles into farm business plans will all be emphasized with participating producers.