Stream on Jay Hardwick's farm near Newellton, La.
Environmental Quality Incentives Program funding helped Jay Hardwick protect the banks of this stream from long-term erosion on his farm near Newelltoin, La.

USDA announces latest installment of conservation funding

USDA providing $225 million for new round of conservation programs, expects $500 million in matching funds from partner organizations.

USDA has announced funding for 88 new projects under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program or RCPP, the agricultural conservation initiative created in the Agricultural Act of 2014 or the 2014 farm bill.

The federal government is providing $225 million for the projects, but USDA expects public and private partners to contribute another $500 million for the conservation efforts, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Among the biggest projects are two that will provide $15 million to rice-specific Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship Program conservation practices in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Missouri and to supplement construction of a reservoir for irrigation water in Texas.

“RCPP plays a critical role in connecting partners with producers to design and implement conservation solutions that benefit both natural resources and agriculture,” Vilsack said. “The farm bill is the largest source of federal funding for private lands conservation, and RCPP is contributing innovative conservation solutions to communities across the country.”

Vilsack said RCPP offers new opportunities for the NRCS, conservation partners and agricultural producers to work together to harness innovation, expand the conservation mission, and demonstrate the value and efficacy of voluntary, private lands conservation.

Stronger rural economies

“The program is increasing investment in conservation from a diversity of partners, leading to cleaner and more abundant water, improved soil and air quality, enhanced wildlife habitat, and stronger rural economies. (For more information on the RCPP, visit http://bit.ly/2iBbnw9.)

Water quality and drought are dominant themes in this year's RCPP project list with 46 of the 88 projects focusing on water resource concerns. More than a fourth of the projects are focused on improving fish and wildlife habitat.

USA Rice Federation, through its USA Rice-Ducks Unlimited Rice Stewardship Partnership, was awarded funding for two projects bringing $15 million to the Mid-South and Gulf Coast's rice-growing regions. The NRCS funds, along with $15-plus million in financial and in-kind support of 45 companies and organizations, will help producers implement a variety of conservation practices on their operations.

USA Rice took the lead for the Mid-South Graduated Water Stewardship Program, which was awarded $7 million to be used for rice-specific EQIP and CSP contracts in Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, and Central and Northeast Louisiana.

Good timing for farmers

The second project, is led by the Lower Colorado River Authority and was awarded $8 million to supplement the building of a conservation reservoir in Eagle Lake, Texas to provide water for irrigation and flooded water bird habitat across 50,000 acres of ricelands.

“The notification that our proposals were awarded is just thrilling, the news of this funding could really not have come at a better time,” said Jeff Durand, Louisiana rice farmer and co-chair of the Rice Stewardship Partnership.

“As producers we’re dealing with an ongoing streak of low commodity prices and luckily, the wide suite of practices available through EQIP and CSP will, in most cases, improve our bottom lines and add to our overall sustainability as an industry.”

Speaking at the USA Rice Outlook Conference in Memphis, USDA-NRCS Chief Jason Weller said he was “proud of the partnership NRCS has with the rice industry...for your commitment to being partners with us to invest in conservation and really be national leaders in production agriculture.”

With today's announcement, the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is investing a total of $825 million in 286 projects, bringing together more than 2,000 conservation partners who have committed an estimated $1.4 billion in financial and technical assistance, Vilsack said.

Signups in late 2017

By 2018, NRCS and its partners, including Indian tribes, nonprofit organizations, state and local governments, private industry, water districts, universities and many others, will have invested at least $2.4 billion through RCPP.

Since 2009, USDA has invested more than $29 billion to help producers make conservation improvements, working with as many as 500,000 farmers, ranchers and landowners to protect over 400 million acres nationwide, boosting soil and air quality, cleaning and conserving water and enhancing wildlife habitat.

Signups for portions of the latest round of projects could occur by late 2017.

For more on USDA’s work in conservation and forestry, visit http://medium.com/usda-results.

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