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News Release

USDA Partners, usher in a new era in conservation

Julie MacSwain

New conservation initiative goes beyond traditional government efforts

ST PAUL, MINN,  May 27, 2014 — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced the launch of what he calls “a new era in American conservation efforts” with an historic focus on public-private partnership.

“This is an entirely new approach to conservation,” Vilsack said. “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.”

The new conservation program, called the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), was authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill and will benefit areas all 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.

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.

 “Local decision making is empowered through this program– bringing together conservation groups, cities and townships, sportsmen groups, universities, agricultural associations and others – to design conservation projects that are tailored to our needs here in Minnesota,” said Don Baloun, NRCS state conservationist in Minnesota.

With participating partners investing along with the Department, USDA’s $1.2 billion in funding over the life of the five-year program will leverage $2.4 billion for conservation. Through RCPP, partners propose conservation projects to improve soil health, water quality and water use efficiency, wildlife habitat, and other related natural resources on private lands.

“This is an example of government at its best — streamlining multiple programs into one more effective effort, providing flexible tools, and connecting local citizens and organizations with resources that best address their priorities, protect and improve their quality of life, and propel economic growth,” Vilsack said.

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;
  • 25 percent directed to state-level projects through a competitive process established by NRCS state leaders.

Vilsack named eight critical conservation areas (CCAs), which received 35 percent of the program’s overall funding. Parts of Minnesota that are included are the Great Lakes Region, Mississippi River Basin, and Prairie Grasslands.

Great Lakes Region

America’s Great Lakes—Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario—hold 21 percent of the world’s surface fresh water; host habitat for several fish and wildlife species of concern; offer significant economic benefits from fishing and recreation; and provide drinking water for more than 40 million people. With this Critical Conservation Area designation, USDA will build on existing strong partnerships in the region to provide approaches and tools for farmers and ranchers to better manage nutrients and sediment on agricultural land. Accelerated conservation on private lands will help improve water quality, leading to better habitat for fish and wildlife, and increased economic opportunities, while maintaining agricultural productivity

Mississippi River Basin

The Mississippi River is North America’s largest river, flowing over 2,300 miles to the Gulf of Mexico; providing drinking water, food, industry and recreation for millions of people; and home to over 325 bird species. With this Critical Conservation Area designation, USDA will build on existing strong partnerships in the 13-state area to continue to reduce nutrient and sediment loading to water bodies and improve efficiency in using water supplies. This designation builds on momentum already established by NRCS’s Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative. With more than 600 partners engaged throughout the area, farmers and ranchers have treated over 800,000 acres with systems of practices intended to avoid, control and trap nutrient and sediment run-off, and improve irrigation efficiency.

Prairie Grasslands

One of the most threatened ecosystems in North America, native prairie and grasslands contained within the Prairie Grasslands Region are essential habitat for a number of wild game and threatened species, including the lesser prairie chicken and sage grouse. The region also encompasses the Red River Basin and the Ogallala Aquifer—areas that are facing critical conservation needs on working lands from frequent flooding and ponding (in the north) to prolonged drought and aquifer decline (in the Ogallala). With this Critical Conservation Area designation, USDA will build on existing strong partnerships to accelerate conservation efforts and address these water resource and habitat issues. For example, in the Red River Basin of the North, USDA, partners and producers will continue to build on conservation programs to support water retention and mitigate frequent flooding. In the Ogallala, partners will accelerate irrigation efficiency and water conservation work.

For proposals in Minnesota, priorities include:

  • Forestry: reforestation, tree planting, timber stand improvement,
  • Wildlife habitat: focus on prairie\prairie wetland protection, restoration and management,
  • Soil Health: focus on conservation tillage and/or cover crops,
  • Water Quality: Focus on nutrients and sediment,
  • Water Quantity: focus on drainage water management, flooding impacts to Ag land

For more state-specific information on RCPP, visit Minnesota NRCS webpage.

“This program is a prime example of how government can serve as a catalyst for private investment in rural America,” Baloun said.

The announcement of program funding can be found here. Pre-proposals are due July 14, and full proposals are due Sept. 26.

To learn about technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs, visit or local USDA service center. For more on the 2014 Farm Bill, visit



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