New rule improves partner flexibility in Regional Conservation Partnership Program
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture released the final rule for its Regional Conservation Partnership Program. The rule updates USDA’s partner-driven program as directed by the 2018 farm bill and integrates feedback from agricultural producers and others.
“The Regional Conservation Partnership Program is a powerful program that enables us to co-invest with partners on win-win solutions that benefit agriculture and natural resources,” said Kevin Norton, acting chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. “The final rule contains some minor adjustments made in response to public comments, and we now look forward to continuing our work with partners to use this unique and innovative program to extend the reach of conservation.”
RCPP promotes coordination of NRCS and partner conservation activities that aid farmers, ranchers, and private landowners in addressing on-farm, watershed, and regional natural resource concerns.
NRCS received comments from more than 65 organizations and individuals on the RCPP interim rule, which was published Feb. 13, 2020. To integrate that feedback, the final rule adopts the interim rule with minor changes made to RCPP that:
Make explicit special considerations for historically underserved (HU) producer and landowner enrollment, including requiring partnership agreements to denote any authorizations for higher payment rates, advance payment options, or other methods for encouraging HU participation.
Identify ranking criteria for proposals that include developing an innovative conservation approach or technology that specifically targets the unique needs and limitations of historically underserved producers.
Adjust the rule language to incorporate source water protection as a priority resource concern.
Remove the list of infrastructure types that would be considered for Alternative Funding Arrangements to avoid confusion.
Increase the emphasis on conservation benefits and objectives partners seek to achieve for the ranking of proposals.
The 2018 farm bill made RCPP a stand-alone program with its own dedicated funding and simplified rules for partners and producers. Additionally, the 2018 farm bill reduced the number of funding pools and emphasized partner reporting of conservation outcomes.
The updated program also expands flexibility for alternative funding arrangements with partners and the availability of watershed program authorities to projects outside Critical Conservation Areas.
Eligible partners include conservation districts, producer associations, water districts, state or local governments, American Indian tribes, institutions of higher education, and nongovernmental organizations. RCPP applications are accepted from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories. When funding is available, NRCS releases an announcement for program funding that includes proposal requirements.
NRCS reviews partnership proposals according to the priorities and evaluation criteria included in the announcement and ultimately makes project selections. Upon selection of a partnership proposal, NRCS and the partner enter into a partnership agreement through which assistance to producers in the project area is provided. Partnership agreements may be for a period of up to five years.
RCPP helps producers protect working agricultural lands to ensure resilience to climate change by increasing the sustainable use of soil, water, wildlife, and related natural resources, contributing to USDA’s Agriculture Innovation Agenda of reducing the environmental footprint of U.S. agriculture in half by 2050. Last year, Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the department-wide initiative to align resources, programs, and research to position American agriculture to better meet future global demands.
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