The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) was created by the 2014 Farm Bill (Conservation Title [Title II]) when four previous conservation programs were combined. Those programs included the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program, the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative, and the Great Lakes Basin Program. RCPP gives partnership opportunities to allow organizations to work with USDA to improve soil quality, water quantity and quality, or wildlife habitat in a specific area. RCPP is a partner-driven approach to conservation, where partners are required to supply a significant part of the overall cost of the project. RCPP delivers conservation assistance to producers and landowners by promoting coordination between the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and its partners. Producers receive assistance from NRCS through partnership agreements and program contracts or easement agreements.
According to USDA-NRCS, assistance is delivered based on the rules of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), the Healthy Forests Reserve Program (HFRP) and (in certain areas) the Watershed Operations and Flood Prevention Program. These programs will assign as much as seven percent of their corresponding dollars or acres available to RCPP. Information from USDA indicates Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) plans to invest up to $1.2 billion in RCPP through 2018. The 2014 Farm Bill total outlays were estimated at $489 billion for the twelve titles that it contains. About 6 percent ($26.2 billion) of total funding was estimated for all conservation programs. At this rate, RCPP would end with about four percent of total conservation program outlays. NRCS estimates a partner match of at least $2.4 billion for RCPP projects.
According to NRCS, RCPP funds projects in three areas or categories: state level projects, national level projects, and projects in Critical Conservation Areas (CCA). With the $1.2 billion NRCS plans to invest by the end of 2018 in RCPP projects, national and CCAs projects will receive 40 percent and 35 percent of these funds, respectively, while state level projects will receive 25 percent. Projects are selected using a competitive, merit-based process.
The focus of national projects is to improve the conservation, restoration, and sustainable use of soil, water, wildlife and other related natural resources. Priorities within these projects are water quantity, water quality, soil health, at-risk species habitats and air quality.
CCA’s addresses common natural resource goals at the regional level while keeping or enhancing agricultural productivity. Projects in CCA’s try to accomplish regional natural resource goals while meeting complementary local conservation priorities.
Figure 1 shows there are eight areas included in CCA’s that can receive funding through RCPP: Chesapeake Bay Watershed, Mississippi River Basin, Great Lakes Region, California Bay Delta, Prairie Grasslands Region, Colorado River Basin, Columbia River Basin, and the Longleaf Pine Range. As Figure 1 indicates, Iowa is within two CCA’s: the Prairie Grassland Region and the Mississippi River Basin. As indicated by USDA-NRCS, the general goal of the Prairie Grassland Region is to restore and protect native prairie grasslands and wetlands, and promote sustainable use of soil and water resources to reduce flooding, drought, and overdraft of the Ogallala Aquifer. The overall goal of the Mississippi River Basin region is the reduction of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment loads from private lands.
As indicated by Iowa NRCS, Iowa’s priorities under RCPP are: Water Quality (both ground and surface water), soil health and quality, preservation of grasslands/forestlands and other sensitive areas, flood reduction, and wildlife habitat.
Table 1 describes projects in Iowa selected for the RCPP from 2015 to 2017. There are currently eight selected projects. Three of these projects are at the state level, three at the national level, and two are within the Critical Conservation Areas projects. NRCS-RCPP total funding for these projects is equal to $29.247 million.
According to Iowa NRCS, RCPP applications are accepted on a continuous basis; nonetheless NRCS has established application cutoff or submission deadlines for evaluation, ranking and approval of eligible application. The first cutoff date for fiscal year 2018 applications was October 20, 2017. The second cutoff deadline is March 16, 2018.