Up to $260 million is available through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program. The federal money, which must be matched with private or local funds, is targeted to proposals that improve the nation’s water quality, combat drought, enhance soil health, support wildlife habitat and protect agricultural viability.
"Across the country, locally-driven efforts are having a positive effect on conservation and production," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack when making the announcement March 14. "RCPP serves as a valuable vehicle for matching federal investment and private capital to advance natural resource conservation and support agricultural production. Partners in the 84 new high-impact projects we announced in February are matching USDA funding more than two-to-one for a combined investment of over $720 million."
Created by the 2014 Farm Bill, RCPP investments of nearly $600 million have already driven 199 partner-led projects. The program leverages local leadership to establish partnerships that can include private companies, local and tribal governments, universities, non-profits and other non-government partners to work with farmers, ranchers and forest landowners on landscape- and watershed-scale conservation solutions that work best for their region. This will be the third round of funding through RCPP, helping USDA build on record enrollment in all voluntary conservation programs, with more than 500,000 producers participating to protect land and water on over 400 million acres nationwide.
"We recognize the growing interest in leveraging private capital markets to foster impact investments in conservation, sustainable agriculture and forestry," said Vilsack. "For this new round, we hope to see even more applications that support the development of environmental markets and conservation finance projects."
USDA is accepting proposals for Fiscal Year 2017 RCPP funding. Pre-proposals are due May 10. For more information on applying, visit the RCPP website.
- The Midwest Agriculture Water Quality Partnership brings together the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and around 40 other public and private partners to advance a science-based, non-regulatory approach for reducing nutrient loss and improving water quality, soil health and habitat for at-risk species. Partners in this project are matching NRCS funding four-to-one for a total investment of about $47.5 million in priority watersheds in Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska.
-Partners in Delaware and Maryland are using an RCPP project to accelerate the installation of best management practices that enable farmers to meet the nutrient and sediment water quality goals in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
- In New Mexico, an RCPP partnership between the Interstate Stream Commission and an acequia—a local communal irrigation system—has addressed long-standing infrastructure failures to significantly reduce water needs by improving irrigation efficiency.
-In Oregon, removal of encroaching juniper was part of the West-wide private lands conservation effort that helped obviate the need to list the greater sage grouse on the endangered species list.