The first conservation programs authorized under the 2014 farm bill have been announced by USDA. “Transformative” is the word Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack used to describe a new approach to funding conservation programs, called the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, a concept that may sound very familiar to Hoosiers because it looks a lot like the model that has been used here in Indiana for years. The public-private partnership brings government, nonprofits, and businesses together to fund projects on a regional level. Under the program, eight regions of the country have been designated to receive 400 million dollars in government funding for 2014, with over a billion dollars designated over the next 5 years. Making the announcement in Bay City, MI, Sec. Vilsack said this new approach will approach funding of conservation in a new way, “We’re giving private companies, local communities, and other non-government partners a way to invest in what are essentially clean water start-up operations. By establishing new public-private partnerships, we can have an impact that’s well beyond what the Federal government could accomplish on its own. These efforts keep our land resilient and water clean, and promote tremendous economic growth in agriculture, construction, tourism and outdoor recreation, and other industries.” The RCPP will competitively award funds to conservation projects designed by local partners specifically for their region. Eligible partners include private companies, universities, non-profit organizations, local and tribal governments, and others joining with agricultural and conservation organizations and producers to invest money, manpower and materials to their proposed initiatives. With participating partners investing along with the Department, USDA’s $1.2 billion in funding over the life of the five-year program can leverage an additional $1.2 billion from partners for a total of $2.4 billion for conservation.
Senate Ag Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, who helped develop the approach contained in the Farm Bill, says this is the first time more money was allocated for conservation than for the commodity title, “This represents a significant shift in the way we support farmers and ranchers and how we view managing private lands.” Vilsack also praised Stabenow for her leadership to improve conservation programs in Michigan and across the nation and acknowledged her work to craft and secure passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, which authorized USDA to create the new conservation program.
Sean McMahon, with the Nature Conservancy, says this new approach will move the focus from the farm level to the regional or watershed level, “This approach provides conservation on a larger scale which is what partners like the Nature Conservancy have wanted.
Vilsack said efforts to cut conservation funding in the 2015 appropriations bill now before Congress, will not have an impact on this program. The RCPP has three funding pools: 35 percent of total program funding directed to critical conservation areas, chosen by the agriculture secretary; 40 percent directed to regional or multi-state projects through a national competitive process; and 25 percent directed to state-level projects through a competitive process established by NRCS state leaders.
The critical conservation areas Secretary Vilsack announced today are: the Great Lakes Region, Chesapeake Bay Watershed, Mississippi River Basin, Longleaf Pine Range, Columbia River Basin, California Bay Delta, Prairie Grasslands, and the Colorado River Basin. Along the Saginaw Bay, intensive agricultural production, industrial pollution and other factors have created a need for enhanced water quality efforts. The new conservation program announced today, called the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), will benefit similar areas across the nation. RCPP streamlines conservation efforts by combining four programs (the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative, and the Great Lakes Basin Program for Soil Erosion) into one.
To learn about technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted or local USDA service center. For more on the 2014 Farm Bill, visitwww.nrcs.usda.gov/FarmBill.