Regional Conservation Partnership Program

Important Update:

Please note that the Grassroots Guide has not yet been updated to reflect changes made by the 2018 Farm Bill, which was passed and signed into law in December 2018. We are in the process of updating the Guide and expect to publish an updated version in the spring of 2019. In the meantime, please use this guide for basic information about programs and important resources and links for more information, but check with USDA for any relevant program changes made by the 2018 Farm Bill. Also, check out our blog series covering highlights from the new farm bill. 

Targeting natural resource concerns through local conservation partnerships

Ensuring clean, abundant water, healthy soils, and well-managed working farmland is in the interest of farmers and the public – and bringing together the expertise and local knowledge of farmers, conservation and farm organizations, and state and local agencies helps make it happen. Through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), state agencies, and non-governmental organizations work together to provide financial and technical assistance to farmers to install conservation activities to tackle priority natural resource concerns in a state or region.

Through RCPP, NRCS and its partners help producers install and maintain conservation activities like cover cropping and nutrient management in selected project areas like the small watersheds in the Chesapeake Bay or Mississippi River basins or grassland and habitat management in a prime sage grouse nesting area in the mountain West.

Learn More About RCPP! 

Program Basics
USDA’s NRCS administers this new conservation program, but unlike many other NRCS programs, farmers and ranchers do not apply directly for funding through RCPP. Instead, partner entities submit project proposals — see below for the list of eligible partners. Once NRCS selects proposals from these entities, farmers and ranchers are able to apply through NRCS to participate in an RCPP project.

RCPP projects may focus on specific resource issue of heightened concern in a given watershed or region, or a given set or type of farmers within a state or area interested in pursuing innovative conservation objectives, such as nutrient pollution reduction in impaired watersheds, cover crop adoption to improve soil health and reduce runoff, or market development for carbon sequestration credit trading.

RCPP funds can be used by conservation partner organizations to provide assistance directly to producers to implement conservation activities on their farms. In addition, funding can also be directed to partners for a variety of technical assistance (TA) activities, including resource assessment, conservation practice survey and design, conservation planning, and resource monitoring.

Partners are required to provide a significant contribution to the overall cost of the project, including in-kind services such as monitoring, conservation planning, and producer assistance. Neither NRCS nor the 2014 Farm Bill provide a specific definition for “signification contribution;” however, in general, partnership proposals that leverage greater non-federal financial and technical resources will rank higher than those that leverage fewer non-federal resources.

The new farm bill allocates 35 percent of total RCPP funding for projects in Critical Conservation Areas (CCAs), 40 percent to other national priorities as determined by NRCS, and 25 percent to state NRCS offices for in-state projects. The NRCS state office awards the money allocated to them. The national office awards the balance.

NRCS has established eight CCAs:

See this NRCS map for CCA boundaries.


Generally, non-profit groups (such as farm and conservation organizations), conservation districts, or other state or local agencies will take the lead in putting together an RCPP proposal. Successful projects hopefully will work closely with farmers in the region in the planning stages to increase the likelihood of farmers participating in the project once it is underway.

The following entities are eligible to act as project partners:

  • Producer associations or groups
  • State or unit of local government
  • Indian tribes
  • Farmer cooperative
  • Water, irrigation, or rural water districts or associations, or other organizations with water delivery authority to producers
  • Municipal water or wastewater treatment entities
  • Institutions of higher education
  • Organizations or entities with a history of working with producers on agricultural land to address natural resource concerns

RCPP projects must address one or more resource conservation goals, including:

  • Water quality, including nutrient management and sediment reduction
  • Water quantity, including, conversion of irrigated cropland to dry land farming, or irrigation system efficiency improvement
  • Drought mitigation
  • Flood prevention
  • Water retention
  • Air quality improvement
  • Habitat conservation, restoration, and enhancement
  • Erosion and sediment reduction
  • Forest restoration

Under a partnership proposal, partners must:

  • Define the scope of a project, including eligible activities, geographic area targeted, and planning, outreach, implementation, and assessment to be conducted
  • Conduct outreach and education to producers for potential participation
  • If requested, act on behalf of a producer participating in the project in applying
  • Leverage financial or technical assistance provided by USDA with additional funds
  • Conduct an assessment of the project’s effects, and
  • At the conclusion of the project, report to USDA on results and funds leveraged.

RCPP project proposals are ranked according to a four-part ranking system:

  • 25 percent of ranking points based on how partners identify conservation opportunities, establish goals, and design enduring and locally supported solutions.
  • 25 percent based on an assessment of the partner contribution, both the amount of funding and the extent of in-kind activities that partners will contribute
  • 25 percent based on the extent to which a project proposal is innovative. NRCS provides the following examples of “innovation”: the proposal cites recent scientific findings; the project helps producers avoid regulation; the project uses environmental markets; or the partners evaluated the cost-effectiveness of at least two approaches
  • 25 percent based on the extent of participation by farmers, private businesses, utilities, and other stakeholders

The Program in Action

Since RCPP’s creation, USDA has partnered with local and state units of government, non-profit organizations, and private sector actors to invest over $1 billion in conservation projects through the program. The focus of the projects have ranged from wildlife conservation, to soil health, to water quality and beyond.

Several NSAC member organizations have used RCPP, including:

  • The Illinois Stewardship Alliance, in partnership with the Illinois Department of Agriculture received a RCPP award to work with at least 65 farms/farmers distributed across Illinois, creating a network of “Soil Health Model Farms.”
  • The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) received a RCPP award to help farmers and ranchers adopt rotational grazing systems in Mississippi. The project also seeks to develop a peer-to-peer support network and to create a group of “pasture innovators,” ranchers who will specialize in using unique grazing practices tailored to specific breeds of livestock in Mississippi.

Read more about how programs like RCPP have helped connect partner organizations with farmers and NRCS:

How to Apply and Program Resources

Partners interested in submitting a RCPP project proposal should check the NRCS RCPP webpage for information regarding the current Announcement of Program Funding. Producers should check with their local NRCS service center to see if there is a RCPP project in their area. Producers may also request that a project partner submit an application on their behalf to participate in a selected project.

For more information:

Program History, Funding, and Farm Bill Changes

The 2014 Farm Bill created RCPP by consolidating four previously separate programs: the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI), Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP), Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative (CBWI), and Great Lakes Basin Program (GLBP).

Under the 2014 Farm Bill, RCPP retains $100 million per year in existing funding from the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program and Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative. In addition, RCPP pulls 7 percent of funding from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Conservation Stewardship Program, Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, and Healthy Forests Reserve Program. The RCPP funding levels listed below may therefore change over time, as funding for the “covered programs” changes. Fortunately, as long as Congress renews the authority of RCPP and the covered programs from which it pulls funding before 2019, the next farm bill will not need to provide new funding in order to continue the program after 2018.

Regional Conservation Partnership Program 

Year Funding (in millions)
2014 $236
2015 $331
2016 $347
2017 $363
2018 $365
5 yr projection $1,642
10 yr projection $3,566
Please note: The funding levels in the chart above show the amount of mandatory funding reserved by the 2014 Farm Bill for this program to be provided through USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation. However, Congress does at times pass subsequent appropriations legislation that caps the funding level for a particular year for a particular program at less than provided by the farm bill in order to use the resulting savings to fund a different program. In addition, RCPP is subject to automatic cuts as part of an annual sequestration process established by the Budget Control Act of 2011. Therefore, despite its “mandatory” status, the funding level for a given year could be less than the farm bill dictates should the Appropriations Committees decide to raid the farm bill to fund other programs under its jurisdiction.

Authorizing Language 

Section 2401 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 amends Title XII of the Food Security Act of 1985, to be codified at 16 U.S.C. Section 3871.

Last updated in October 2016.