New rule improves partner flexibility in regional conservation partnership program
HURON – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently released the final rule for its Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). 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 Michelle Burke, Acting State Conservationist of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in South Dakota. “The final rule contains some minor adjustments made in response to public comments, and we now look forward to continuing our work with SD 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 SD with addressing on-farm, watershed and regional natural resource concerns.
The 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 HU 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.