DES MOINES, IOWA, Sept. 17, 2020 – USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) today announced a $7.3 million investment for an innovative conservation project in Iowa through Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) Alternative Funding Arrangements (AFA).
“Through projects like this, partners are able to take the lead and leverage the flexibilities that make RCPP so effective,” said Iowa NRCS Acting State Conservationist Kristy Oates. “Partners are delivering conservation in new and innovative ways, and by working together, we can harness our collective resources to produce greater results for conservation and agriculture.”
The Iowa-based project will be led by the Soil and Water Outcomes Fund, a provider of financial incentives to farmers and landowners to implement agricultural best management practices, monetizing the environmental benefits by selling verified outcomes to the beneficiaries.
The group's Agriculture Technology and Environmental Stewardship Foundation project will incorporate an innovative pay-for-performance approach to compensate producers for water quality and soil health improvements using independently verified environmental outcomes. RCPP funding and partner contributions will create a pool of pay-for-performance funds used to pay for the verified nitrogen and phosphorus reductions and verified emissions reductions resulting from practice implementation. The project aims to support the implementation of conservation practices on 180,000 cropland acres in Illinois, Iowa and Ohio.
Nationally, NRCS will invest $50 million in 10 conservation projects across 16 states. Through these projects, partners will contribute more than $65 million to amplify the conservation work that can be performed on agricultural land and privately owned forests across the nation.
Partners are given the liberty to manage an RCPP project and the associated relationships with participating producers and landowners. They identify those producers and landowners, contract with them, and carry out the technical assistance. In addition, through the AFA provision, NRCS has the authority to pursue innovative conservation approaches, such as pay-for-performance, that are not possible under RCPP Classic.
While AFA projects were authorized under the 2014 Farm Bill, the 2018 Farm Bill enhanced the AFA provision and authorized NRCS to award up to 15 AFA projects annually. Through AFAs, approved project partners can work directly with farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners to carry out RCPP projects, as opposed to implementing projects through NRCS producer contracts and landowner easements.
The Farm Bill statute highlights some project types that may be particularly suited to AFAs:
Projects that use innovative approaches to leverage the federal investment in conservation;
Projects that deploy a pay-for-performance conservation approach; and,
Projects that seek large-scale infrastructure investment that generate conservation benefits for agricultural producers and nonindustrial private forest owners.
Farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners access RCPP through partner entities, such as conservation districts, producer associations, water districts, state or local governments, American Indian tribes, institutions of higher education, and nongovernmental organizations.
For more information on the RCPP program, visit the RCPP website.