USDA Invests $50 million in Innovative, Partner-Driven Conservation Projects

WASHINGTON, Sept. 17, 2020 – USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) today announced a $50 million investment in 10 conservation projects across 16 states through its Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) Alternative Funding Arrangements (AFA). Through these projects, partners will contribute more than $65 million to amplify the conservation work that can be performed on agricultural land and privately owned forests across the nation.

“Through these projects, partners are able to take the lead and leverage the flexibilities that make RCPP so effective,” said Acting NRCS Chief Kevin Norton. “Partners are delivering conservation in new and innovative ways, and by working together, we can harness our collective resources to produce greater results for conservation and agriculture.”

Partners are given the liberty to manage an RCPP project and the associated relationships with participating producers and landowners. They identify those producers and landowners, contract with them, and carry out the technical assistance. In addition, through the AFA provision, NRCS has the authority to pursue innovative conservation approaches, such as pay-for-performance, that are not possible under RCPP Classic.

Projects include:

  • Audubon Conservation Ranching Initiative: The National Audubon Society will build on a successful NRCS Conservation Innovation Grants project, expanding Audubon’s Conservation Ranching Initiative, which works with private landowners to enhance ecological, economic, and social outcomes with ranch management practices.
  • Black River Watershed: The Red Lake Watershed District in the Red River Basin will continue implementation of its distributed water detention strategy to reduce harmful flooding impacts on farm production, focusing on the Black River Watershed in Minnesota, a sub watershed within the Red River Basin.
  • Improving Forest Health Through Aggregation: The Improving Forest Health Through Aggregation project will test a new forest carbon and easement aggregation model to protect more forests, increase the amount of forests, and support production of high-quality drinking water throughout the Pennsylvania and New York portions of the Upper Delaware River watershed.
  • Innovative ConservationVital Streams and Forests: The Sonoma Agricultural and Open Space District in California and partners propose a multi-objective project centered on the development of innovative riparian corridor conservation easements and source water protection forestland easements.
  • Nebraska Forest Restoration Partnership: The Nebraska Forest Service will develop a “forests first” effort to increase the pace and scale of forest restoration, windbreak renovation, and tree canopy recovery throughout the state.
  • Recharge in the Upper Verde River Watershed: Water quantity, loss of grassland ecosystems, and wildfire risk are critical resource concerns in the Upper Verde River Watershed of Arizona’s central highlands. This project will bring together local, state, and federal agencies, as well as local resource conservation districts and agricultural producers, to optimize groundwater recharge across the watershed.
  • Scaling Soil Health in the Prairie Pothole Region: Ducks Unlimited proposes to harness a large partnership to implement agricultural practices that improve soil health for agricultural production, wildlife, and society and improve the management of water in a landscape prone to both flooding and drought.
  • Sebago Watershed Protection Investment Program: The Lake Sebago Watershed provides drinking water to one sixth of Maine’s population, yet only 11% of this watershed is currently protected from development. The Sebago Watershed Protection Investment Program will work with landowners and local municipalities to protect 10,000 acres of forest, improve aquatic organism passageway, restore wetlands, improve forest management, control aquatic invasive plant species, and educate landowners.
  • Soil and Water Outcomes Fund: The Agriculture Technology and Environmental Stewardship Foundation will incorporate an innovative pay-for-performance approach to compensate producers for water quality and soil health improvements using independently verified environmental outcomes in Iowa, Illinois, and Ohio.
  • Vermont Pay-for-Phosphorus Program: This project will use a pay-for-performance approach to pay farmers statewide for voluntary phosphorus load reductions that exceed average reductions required for nonpoint source agriculture in the Lake Champlain Basin.

Visit the RCPP website for full project details or see the projects on this interactive map.

More Information

While AFA projects were authorized under the 2014 Farm Bill, the 2018 Farm Bill enhanced the AFA provision and authorized NRCS to award up to 15 AFA projects annually. Through AFAs, approved project partners can work directly with farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners to carry out RCPP projects, as opposed to implementing projects through NRCS producer contracts and landowner easements.

The Farm Bill statute highlights some project types that may be particularly suited to AFAs:

  • Projects that use innovative approaches to leverage the federal investment in conservation;
  • Projects that deploy a pay-for-performance conservation approach; and,
  • Projects that seek large-scale infrastructure investment that generate conservation benefits for agricultural producers and nonindustrial private forest owners.

Farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners access RCPP through partner entities, such as conservation districts, producer associations, water districts, state or local governments, American Indian tribes, institutions of higher education, and nongovernmental organizations.

For more information on the RCPP program, visit the RCPP website.

The Regional Conservation Partnership Program is a partner-driven approach to conservation that funds solutions to natural resource challenges on agricultural land. By leveraging collective resources and collaborating on common goals, RCPP demonstrates the power of public-private partnerships in delivering results for agriculture and conservation.

Read more about the Regional Conservation Partnership Program.

By Brian Allmer - The BARN

Brian Allmer & the BARN are members of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB), the Colorado FFA Foundation, the Colorado 4H Foundation, the Colorado Farm Show Marketing Committee, 1867 Club Board Member, Denver Ag & Livestock Club Member, the Weld County Fair Board, the Briggsdale FFA Advisory Council, Briggsdale 4H Club Beef Leader & Founder / Coordinator of the Briggsdale Classic Open Jackpot Show.