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Author: Dr. Jennifer Wells
What is an RCPP?
Improving soil health, ensuring healthy drinking water, and providing wildlife habitat is of interest to most people, regardless of their occupation. A Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) is a program awarded and funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that leverages collective resources and demonstrates the power of public-private partnerships in agriculture. The program combines the skills of farmers, state agencies, private businesses and non-governmental organizations to provide financial and technical assistance to farmers to adopt conservation activities that address natural resource concerns in a local area. RCPP’s were first created in the 2014 Farm Bill by consolidating several existing conservation programs and placing them under one umbrella. In the 2018 Farm Bill, the program was restructured a little, and funding was increased to $300 million per year for all projects.1
RCPP projects are awarded based on the following criteria:
1. Impact: Priority goes to those that provide the most compelling solutions to address one or more natural resource concerns within the chosen area.
2. Partner Contributions: Partners (e.g. private businesses or state agencies) are asked to identify any combination of cash and in-kind value-added contributions to make the most out of NRCS’s RCPP investments. Total partner contributions should be at least equivalent to the level of the NRCS investment, where larger partner contributions are given priority.
3. Innovation: As agriculture tends to be a fast-moving space in the technology world, NRCS prioritizes projects that implement innovative conservation approaches or technologies or builds and develops new and unique partnerships. RCPPs are a great way for growers to try new things without the burden of the entire financial risk.
4. Partnerships and Management: The experience and knowledge base of the partners involved play a big role in a project getting chosen. When awarding a large sum of money, it’s important to have confidence that partners involved have the capacity, expertise, and outreach to execute a successful project.2
How does the RCPP application process work?
In most cases, non-profit groups, conservation districts, or other state or local agencies take the lead role in organizing and submitting the RCPP proposal. Ideally, working with both farmers and other partners in the region of interest along the way. Having farmers involved in the planning generally provides higher participation during the execution period. The farmer application process is a little different with RCPPs. Instead of applying for funding directly through the RCPP, like in most NRCS programs, they apply to the NRCS. Once the NRCS chooses the projects they want to fund for the year, the NRCS will begin the selection process with growers that fit that particular project.
Cedar River Source Water Partnership
The Cedar River Source Water Partnership (CRSWP) is an RCPP in Iowa that was awarded in 2021 and led by the City of Cedar Rapids. Through collaboration among communities and agricultural partners, the project aims to improve water quality, mitigate the risk of flooding, and improve habitat for fish and wildlife. Truterra is one of the 11 project partners and are working with the local Truterra retailers to connect their growers to the NRCS office thru the RCPP. This project is the first time the NRCS is engaging and financially rewarding retailers for their technical expertise and grower identification for conservation adoption. The Truterra™ sustainability tool will be used to evaluate the project's conservation and economic outcomes. In total, the USDA-NRCS awarded just over $7 million to CRSWP for the 5-year RCPP. $4.9 million of the USDA funding will go straight to growers to help them pay for conservation practices. The remaining $2.1 million will go to education and outreach, as well as technical assistance for growers for farm conservation decisions. The 11 CRSWP partners will contribute an estimated $12 million (cash and in-kind) to provide additional resources and financial incentives to growers for implementing conservation practices.3
What to do if you are interested in participating in an RCPP
If you are interested in pursuing a RCPP, reach out to your Truterra account manager, or local retailer, and come prepared with a regional concern of interest and what public partners you might partner with on the RCPP. If you are a grower in the Cedar River Watershed interested in participating in the current RCPP, reach out to your Truterra retailer for more information. To learn more about existing RCPP’s in your area, contact your local NRCS office or visit their website at www.nrcs.usda.gov. If you are interested in learning more about Truterra’s carbon market access program or carbon program, visit www.truterraag.com/carbon.
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