The RCPP has three funding pools:

•  35 percent of total program funding directed to critical conservation areas or CCAs, 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.

The announcement drew applause from a number of non-governmental and farm organizations, including the USA Rice Federation, which said it is preparing to submit a proposal for a national rice industry partnership under the RCPP.

A spokesman for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, a critic of some the government’s conservation programs, called the RCPP a “major win” for farm and sustainable agriculture organizations.

“RCPP is unique among conservation programs in its focus on targeted, project-based partnerships,” says said Greg Fogel, senior policy specialist with the NSAC. “Through RCPP, non-federal partners will bring their vast expertise to the table to help NRCS engage farmers and facilitate project implementation, including outreach, education, monitoring, and reporting.

“Public-private partnerships, such as the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, provide additional support and assistance to producers and landowners interested in reducing nutrient runoff from their land and, ultimately, improving water quality downstream in the Mississippi River,” said Jill Kostel, senior environmental engineer for The Wetlands Initiative in Chicago and co-chair of the Mississippi River Network’s Steering Committee.

NSAC officials said they have worked since 2011 to ensure that project partners are able to access the funding necessary to provide adequate outreach and technical assistance to producers. “These organizations have the expertise and relationships necessary to reach, recruit, and mobilize farmers, provide conservation planning assistance, and conduct monitoring and evaluation of project outcomes; however, they generally lack the financial resources necessary to do such work,” said Fogel.

Big step forward

“The decision to make such funding available through RCPP is a big step forward in making these new partnerships viable.”

USDA is now accepting proposals for this program. Pre-proposals are due July 14, and full proposals are due September 26. For more information on applying, read the announcement for program funding (AFP).

To learn about technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted or your local USDA service center. For more on the 2014 Farm Bill, visitwww.nrcs.usda.gov/FarmBill.