Illinois NRCS announces to the public improvements to the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) as well as an unprecedented $1 billion investment to advance partner-driven solutions to conservation on agricultural land through 81 projects.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced improvements to the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) as well as an unprecedented $1 billion investment to advance partner-driven solutions to conservation on agricultural land through 81 projects. Four Illinois projects will receive $42.7 million in funding. RCPP leverages a voluntary approach to conservation that expands the reach of conservation efforts and climate-smart agriculture through public-private partnerships. Historic funding is made possible by both the Inflation Reduction Act, part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, and the Farm Bill.
“The unprecedented demand for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program shows how much interest there is from producers and partners for voluntary conservation on the ground,” said Tammy Willis, State Conservationist in Illinois for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). “USDA is making historic investments and streamlining the program to make it work better for producers and partners. The combination of historic investments and streamlining actions will deliver conservation at a scale never achieved through RCPP.”
NRCS has identified ways to streamline and simplify RCPP, ease the burden on employees and partners, and help maximize flexibility for partners to leverage their investments with NRCS resources and capabilities.
Through a concerted effort over the past eight months-using guidance, feedback, and expertise from partners, employees, leadership, and stakeholders-NRCS has identified several improvements that the agency will implement in the months and years ahead.
• Streamlining RCPP agreements for fiscal year 2023 awards and moving to one programmatic agreement to begin implementing the RCPP projects awarded under the fiscal year 2024 notice of funding opportunity. This will allow partners to begin quicker implementation of their RCPP projects.
• Entrusting program management and negotiation to the State Conservationists, who lead NRCS programs in each state. This further encourages the locally led process and ensuring the necessary technical needs and costs were realized before project proposal submission.
• Establishing parameters and expectations for easement negotiations, including availability of easement deed templates and established program processes to reduce partnership agreement negotiation and implementation timeframes.
• Improving RCPP guidance and training, ensuring RCPP policies and procedures are communicated in a uniform and consistent manner.
• Enhancing existing business tools to improve the user experience while beginning development of new business tools that, through integration and automation, will reduce the time required for agreement negotiation, processing obligations, and making payments to partners.
For the full list of RCPP improvements Illinois NRCS has identified for future implementation, visit our website at https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs-initiatives/rcpp-regional-conservati….
Once improvements have been implemented, NRCS estimated that the negotiation time of RCPP agreements with U.S.-held easement activities will be reduced from 15 months to three months, and from 19 months to three months with entity-held easement activities.
The RCPP improvements are coming at a critical time, as they will strengthen NRCS’ ability to implement the Inflation Reduction Act, which provided $4.95 billion in additional funding for the program over five years.
Unprecedented RCPP Funding
In Illinois, project(s) include:
1. Advancing Farmer-Led Incentives in the Midwest- The lead partner is Sand County Foundation, and will cover certain watersheds in Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin.
2. Metro Chicago RCPP; Expanding Land Access and Grower Resources and a Reginal Food System- The lead partner is The Conservation Fund, and will cover the Counties in northeastern Illinois.
3. Illinois Sand Prairie Wetlands Program- The lead partner is the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and will cover certain counties and west central Illinois.
4. Infield Conservation for Operationalizing Vital Ecosystem Resilience (I-COVER)- The lead partner is Illinois Department of Bureau of Land and Water Resources, and will cover the State of Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana.
The Farm Bill and Inflation Reduction Act provided funding for this year’s RCPP projects.
With this $1.1 billion investment, NRCS has more than doubled the initial allocation for 2023 to capitalize on the unprecedented demand for RCPP and ensure project partners have the maximum amount of time to successfully implement conservation activities before funds expire in fiscal year 2031. Nationwide, there are:
• 77 climate-focused projects ($1.02 billion in funding).
• Twenty-two projects focused on water quantity and conservation (more than $338 million in funding).
• Three RCPP Classic projects are led by Tribes (more than $58 million in funding).
• Sixteen projects support the protection and restoration of wildlife corridors ($216 million in funding).
• Ten projects focus on urban agriculture ($123 million in funding).
Since inception, RCPP has made 717 awards involving over 4,000 partner organizations.
Inflation Reduction Act Boosts Voluntary Conservation Programs
Through the Inflation Reduction Act, USDA has enrolled more farmers and more acres in voluntary conservation programs than at any point in history, following a backlog that has existed for years. In 2023, USDA enrolled nearly 5,300 additional producers in conservation programs across all 50 states (above what otherwise would have been possible through Farm Bill and appropriations funding), which will provide significant climate mitigation benefits. This includes:
• $100 million through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP)
• $250 million through the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)
• $250 million through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
In total, the Inflation Reduction Act provides $19.5 billion over five years to support USDA’s oversubscribed conservation programs, and it represents the single largest investment in climate and clean energy solutions in American history.
USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America.
USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer, and lender.