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Advancing Equity in NRCS - ‘Looking thru the lens of others’

NRCS customers are the most important visitors to the agency.  Our customers are not reliant on NRCS staff, the NRCS staff relies on our customers to be a successful and accomplished federal entity.  For such a profound situation, NRCS must provide all of our customers with the opportunity to learn, grow, and thrive, regardless of their circumstances.  Program history does not reflect continuous recognition and awarding to underserved farmers and ranchers.  Without EQUITY, the systemic recognition and awarding has too often resulted in continued acceptance of those that are already set up for success…With EQUITY, NRCS will change this.


In accordance with Executive Order 13985, ‘Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government’,  NRCS Chief Terry J. Cosby established the agency’s first ever, Equity Division in October 2021.  Chief Cosby’s commitment and dedication to Equity goals will be to “Advance Equity by sustaining fairness of NRCS programs, services, and technical assistance within agency policies and practices.”

In measuring Equity, we must first understand and be able to identify the equity dimension and its impact.  Although the terms equality and equity are sometimes used interchangeably, the two convey significantly different ideas. Equity is about fairness, while equality is about resemblance.

The NRCS Equity Division is identifying methods to assess Equity…studying methods for assessing whether agency policies and actions that create or exacerbate barriers to full and equal participation by all eligible individuals.  The analysis of the study is aimed at identifying the best methods, consistent with applicable law, to assist NRCS in advancing Equity with respect to race, ethnicity, religion, income, geography, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability.

NRCS Equity Division – Mission/Vision/Core Values:

MISSION – Advocate for and better align institutional Equity into the work and practices of NRCS to ensure that every USDA-NRCS customer is put in a position to succeed in a diverse government world and notably feel inclusiveness to agency programs and services.

VISION – Diversity and inclusion for every customer through our programs.

CORE VALUES – Believing that NRCS customers’ opportunity and benefits of agency programs are strengthened when working towards the common good and goals by improving agency program outreach, NRCS improves customers’ Equity and equality of life through conservation opportunities and benefits.

NRCS Delivering on Justice40

Official Headshot of Chief Terry Cosby

NRCS Chief Terry J. Cosby

“Helping people help the land is what drives NRCS to achieve our mission. Across the nation, we seek to ensure that program participation is increased by 10 percent each year until we meet or exceed the Justice40 goals.”






The NRCS National Leadership Team has worked to craft and track a plan that ensures Equity is incorporated in the planning and delivery of technical assistance and conservation programs.  NRCS aims to increase program participation by 10 percent each year until the agency meets, or exceeds, the Justice40 goals outlined in President Biden’s commitment.

By leveraging partnerships through locally led community revitalization and renewing efforts of NRCS’ program outreach delivery processes, we believe that we can foster inclusive approaches to invigorate conservation efforts across the nation. We also seek to ensure that disadvantaged communities, and those that have been historically underserved, have access to and can benefit from the agency’s programs and services.

To accomplish the goals identified in NRCS’ Equity Action Plan, we will engage with diverse stakeholders from across the country to seek their input, guidance, and feedback on needed changes for technical assistance and program delivery. In addition, we will utilize lessons learned from the Chief’s Hiring Strategy Task Force (HSTF) to make advancements in the agency’s workforce diversity to ensure that we have highly skilled and compassionate employees who can build relationships at the local level and earn the trust of historically underserved customers and communities.  We will address barriers that impede progress by examining our relationship with historically underserved communities. Consistent messaging from agency leadership and employee engagement will also be essential to NRCS’ success in reaching the goals to fully implement the Justice40 plan.

NRCS Covered Justice40 Programs

  • Agricultural Conservation Easement Program – Agricultural Land Easements (ACEP ALE)
  • Agricultural Conservation Easement Program – Wetland Reserve Easements (ACEP WRE)
  • Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA)
  • Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)
  • Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA)
  • Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
  • Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWPP)
  • Healthy Forest Reserve Program (HFRP)
  • Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Partnership (JCLRP)
  • Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production (OUAIP)
  • Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP)
  • Watershed Rehabilitation (REHAB)


Vivian Dickson, NRCS Equity Division Director –