USDA investing $75M in partner-led projects with focus on climate-smart ag, equity in program delivery
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture will invest nearly $75 million for 15 partner-led projects to address natural resource concerns on private lands. This year, projects funded by the Regional Conservation Partnership Program’s Alternative Funding Arrangements focus on climate-smart agriculture and forestry and other conservation priorities as well as improving access for historically underserved producers.
“The AFA component of RCPP is designed for partners who are thinking outside of the box to address some of our most pressing natural resource challenges,” said Terry Cosby, Chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. “RCPP is a testament to the power of partnership. By combining local expertise, partner resources, federal assistance and a shared commitment to conservation we can advance critical priorities and innovative solutions that are key to addressing the climate crisis.”
As part of this year’s project selections, NRCS prioritized projects that supported smart strategies on working lands to help sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Several projects also had concrete plans for engaging producers from historically underserved communities.
Through RCPP, NRCS works with partners to implement projects that demonstrate innovative solutions to advance conservation priorities on the ground. AFA projects are partner-designed and partner-led RCPP projects that propose innovative uses of program funding to achieve conservation benefits. Through AFA projects, lead partners are responsible for contracting directly with eligible farmers, ranchers and other landowners to implement conservation activities on the ground.
This year’s awarded projects are:
Climate Action and Reforestation in Northern Michigan (Michigan): Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Will work towards afforestation and reforestation goals under the Michigan Climate Action Plan by planting on approximately 16,400 acres. The project could serve as a model for large-scale forest restoration on private lands. Project partners will report on environmental outcomes related to sedimentation, nutrient loading and carbon sequestered.
Enhancing Hawaii’s Forests for Climate Resilience (Hawaii): State of Hawaii, Department of Land and Natural Resources. Will focus on landscape-level forest restoration, with locations selected for the highest potential carbon sequestration. Will also improve habitat for critically endangered bird species. Project partners will work with private landowners to plant 210,000 native trees and remove priority invasive plants from 1,650 acres.
Expanding Soil Health Through Carbon Markets RCPP (South Dakota): American Coalition for Ethanol. Will work to create a strong market driver for climate-smart agriculture practices (no-till, cover crops, and nutrient management) for farmers in the grainshed supplying a farmer-owned ethanol facility in South Dakota. Market access would generate an estimated $18.5 million in new revenue annually in the RCPP project area.
Great Plains Grasslands Conservation (South Dakota, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska): National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Farmers in the region will implement grassland restoration and prescribed grazing systems on more than 1 million acres. An estimated 350,000 acres of grasslands will be enrolled in perpetual conservation easements and project partners plan to estimate the carbon benefits of project activities.
Gunnison River Drought Resiliency and Restoration (Colorado): Trout Unlimited. Will restore wetlands and riparian areas while improving irrigation water management on at least five working ranches in three distinct tributaries to the Gunnison River.
Healing Mine-Scarred Landscapes via Reforestation (Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia): U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities. Will reforest abandoned mine lands in the Appalachian region leveraging private capital and carbon market revenues. Partners will plant 2.5 million trees and the sequestered carbon estimated and sold as carbon offsets. Restored forest ecosystems will also benefit wildlife, including golden-winged warbler and American woodcock.
Illinois Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership (Illinois): Illinois Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Land and Water Resources. Will establish a Climate-Smart Agricultural Champions program for Illinois producers that will incentivize climate-smart conservation practices and systems with greenhouse gas and water quality benefits. Project partners will also create an Agricultural Climate-Smart Institute to establish educational and training programs for climate-smart systems and practices.
Iowa Partners for Natural Infrastructure (Iowa): Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. Will establish a natural infrastructure-based project in priority watersheds within a 35-county area. The project aims to improve outreach and expand landowner participation, particularly among historically underserved landowners and producers. Will work to install 40 constructed/restored wetlands, resulting in conversion of 1,600 acres. to improve water quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase wildlife habitat.
Maryland Clean Water Commerce Outcomes Project (Maryland): Sand County Foundation. Will help scale up the pay-for-performance program and expand access to nutrient reduction funding to more producers, including historically underserved producers. Many of the practices and systems implemented by farmers to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay watershed will have climate co-benefits.
Middle Rio Grande RCPP (New Mexico): Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District. Will integrate efficient use of water and enhancement of wildlife habitat. Project partners will use land management, short-term rental and easement activities to help producers increase the resiliency of their operations and adapt to long-term drought conditions and will target project benefits to historically underserved producers.
Pilot Watershed Project (Ohio): Ohio State University. Will establish a pilot watershed in the larger Western Lake Erie Basin to test water quality management strategies with the goal of reducing phosphorus concentrations in local water bodies. The project will improve water quality monitoring infrastructure and incentivize participation through an “agglomeration bonus” that increases payments as more producers implement practices.
Saginaw Bay Watershed ASSET Program (Michigan): The Nature Conservancy. Will increase the permanent adoption of strip till and cover crops in the Saginaw Bay watershed offering producers incentives to support transition to a strip till system, ultimately reducing nutrient and sediment loss to nearby waterways. Partners aim to achieve a 2,000-ton sediment reduction and a 9,000-pound phosphorous reduction.
Shasta Valley Farm and Fish Drought Resilience (California): National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Will support the implementation of a Safe Harbor Agreement designed to improve conditions for threatened coho salmon along 37 stream miles within the Shasta River, a tributary to the Klamath River.
Soil and Water Outcomes 2022-2023 (Illinois, Indiana, Missouri): Illinois Soybean Association. Will replicate and scale up an existing pay-for-performance model piloted in Iowa to improve water quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in target watersheds. Farmers will implement conservation practices and systems on 140,000 acres of cropland. RCPP funding will be used to pay for the verified water quality outcomes while partner contributions from Nutrien Ag Solutions and PepsiCo will pay for the verified carbon reductions.
Upper Arkansas Forest Fund (Colorado): National Forest Foundation. Will work to reduce the risk of severe fires in the Upper Arkansas River Watershed by treating a total of 13,500 high-priority acres. Remote sensing and fire modeling tools will help partners report on project outcomes, measured by reduced fire risk and retained carbon storage capacity.
For details on the awarded projects and to view an interactive map, visit the RCPP website.
Farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners can participate in RCPP AFA through lead partners and can contact local service centers for more information.
First authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill, RCPP has leveraged partner contributions of more than $1 for every $1 invested by USDA, resulting in nearly $3 billion collectively invested in natural resource conservation on private lands. Partners are expected to offer value-added contributions to amplify the impact of RCPP funding in an amount equal or greater to the USDA investment. RCPP projects range from a minimum of $250,000 to a maximum of $10 million.
The North Park Stockgrowers Association and Western Landowners Alliance hosted a meeting in Walden, Colo., on June 20 for northern Colorado ranchers focused on reducing conflict between working lands and wildlife as naturally migrating wolves…
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