May 5, 2021
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced its list of fiscal year (FY) 2021 Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) awards. In addition, USDA announced the availability of up to $75 million for Alternative Funding Arrangements (AFAs) under RCPP. Applications for RCPP AFA will be accepted until May 28, 2021. In this blog post, we provide background on RCPP, highlight some FY 2021 awards, and provide details on current and upcoming RCPP funding opportunities.
The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) brings the expertise of farmers, conservation and farm organizations, and state and local agencies to conserve thousands of acres of land across the country. This program focuses on protecting watersheds by promoting soil health, well-managed working farmland, and conservation practices.
RCPP is different from other federal conservation programs in that projects must be undertaken as partnerships between a variety of stakeholders, including nonprofit groups, land trusts, landowners, and other groups. Through RCPP projects, farmers and landowners may receive payments from the organization leading the partnership rather than directly from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The organizations that participate in the program are expected to provide significant matching funds for the project, including in-kind services such as monitoring, conservation planning, and producer assistance. Farmers who participate in the program will most often work with the partnership organizations rather than directly with NRCS.
RCPP projects are also intended to address specific natural resource concerns at a landscape scale. This can include individual states, larger regions, or entire watersheds. These areas are known as Critical Conservation Areas (CCAs). Some CCAs include the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the Mississippi River Basin, the Prairie Grasslands region, the Colorado River Basin, as well as others.
Since RCPP’s creation in 2014, USDA has partnered with local and state units of government, non-profit organizations, and private sector actors to invest more than $3 billion in conservation projects across the country. Projects have focused on wildlife conservation, soil health, water quality, and many other conservation priorities. For FY 2021, USDA awarded 85 new partnership projects, totaling $330 million. Examples of the 2021 RCPP projects include:
For a full list of projects, go to this website.
There are two types of national funding announcements under RCPP: standard RCPP and RCPP Alternative Funding Arrangements (AFAs).
NRCS can now enter into up to 15 AFAs or grant agreements per year. The application period for RCPP AFA is currently open. In order to apply for FY 2021, applications should be submitted by May 28, 2021. NRCS announced the availability of up to $75 million that will be awarded this year and distributed across 15 projects.
Following the Biden-Harris Administration’s all of government approach to addressing the climate crisis, USDA is allocating a significant portion of funds to projects related to climate friendly agriculture and forestry. However, we urge USDA to not focus solely on projects that advance carbon markets and new technologies, but that also engage early adopters and historically underserved farmers and that leverage existing federal conservation programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). Furthermore, we strongly encourage USDA to retain the emphasis of the program on water quality concerns, which are interrelated to the climate crisis and cannot be overlooked.
If you’re interested in learning more about what NRCS looks for in RCPP projects, take a look at this webpage. Any partner interested in submitting an RCPP application should go through NRCS’s funding portal. We encourage interested partners to reach out to an NRCS agent as soon as possible to get the process started.