Teresa Koper, The Climate Trust
September 3, 2014
One of the exciting new programs to come out of the recent Farm Bill—enacted in February this year—is the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). The RCPP promotes coordination between the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and its partners; delivering conservation assistance to producers and landowners. Specifically, NRCS provides assistance to producers through partnership agreements and through program contracts or easement agreements.
These partnerships hold great potential to proliferate conservation impact. The RCPP is not a grant program, but instead leverages funds from NRCS and multiple (and sometimes unlikely) partners to incentivize conservation projects. All funding goes to the producers and landowners for implementing conservation activities. This type of collective action promotes coordination between different governmental and non-governmental entities—nonprofits, private companies, Indian tribes, local communities, and academic institutions—who are reaching towards a common goal.
This is a unique opportunity for traditional conservation efforts to join forces with up-and-coming environmental markets, such as the carbon offset markets. Alone, carbon offset projects may not be enough to incentivize widespread practice changes across sectors (i.e. agriculture or forestry), but in combination with practices that landowners are already familiar with, these modifications might become more readily adoptable—especially when they positively contribute to the overall effort and cost of implementing a conservation project.
Consider the recent news regarding a rise in water pollution resulting in massive algal blooms in Lake Erie near Toledo, Ohio. Traditionally, a landowner that farms acreage with elevated levels of phosphorus and nitrogen in the surface and ground water might receive funding from NRCS to improve their irrigation efficiency (so less water leaches agricultural fertilizers into the environment). However, if the landowner chooses to engage with the RCPP, their partnership would include a carbon offset technical advisor, and the farmer would not only be encouraged, but incentivized, to change the way the fertilizer is applied (rate, placement, timing, and/or source). The overall result from this multi-partnership approach is less negative environmental impacts, and earned carbon credits for this eligible climate-friendly conservation practice. These carbon credits can then be sold on the market, providing the farmer with additional revenue. Approaching a conservation concern with a collection of diverse partners has the potential to increase the impact by magnitudes.
The enthusiasm for these conservation partnerships has been overwhelming. The total amount of funding requested from NRCS was over six times the $364 million available for 2014/2015. Not only are these partnerships designed to leverage funds, but also to provide technical resources and innovation regarding conservation methods and delivery. The selection of partnerships to be accepted into the RCPP program will be announced before the end of 2014.
Partnerships such as the RCPP have the ability to catalyze and amplify the impact of a conservation effort. Watch this space as results from this innovative partnership program come to fruition.