Regional Conservation Partnership Program

Congress first authorized the Department of Agriculture’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program, or RCPP, in the 2014 Farm Bill, by combining four separate regional conservation programs, and it was reauthorized in the 2018 Farm Bill. The data we present in the database begins with 2017 and continues through 2022, to highlight changes in payments before and after the 2018 Farm Bill.

Through RCPP, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, or NRCS, provides financial and technical assistance to farmers and partners to get conservation practices on farm fields. The partner organizations are state agencies or non-governmental organizations like farm groups or conservation organizations. NRCS provides funding for RCPP projects, and the partner organizations also provide funding or other contributions, like technical assistance. The funding and technical assistance help farmers implement conservation practices on their farms.

RCPP funds both working lands conservation practices, such as cover crops, as well as conservation easements, where farmers take some of their land out of production. Funding from the program is only provided for specific projects in which both partners and farmers participate. For example, the “Protection and Restoration of Grasslands in Iowa” was one of the projects funded in 2023. Through that project, RCPP money is going to farmers in Iowa to retire farmland and establish easements that will be planted with grasses, and Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation is the partner coordinating the project.

RCPP funding goes to two different pools: one is for projects in a critical conservation area, and the other is for projects in a single state or across multiple states. There are eight critical conservation areas – these are regions of the country designated by the Secretary of Agriculture as having specific natural resource concerns and goals. For example, the Mississippi River Critical Conservation Area is an important region of the country for agriculture, industry, wildlife and ecological resources.

The 2018 Farm Bill made several reforms to RCPP. It stopped RCPP from drawing funding from other conservation programs and instead gave RCPP $300 million a year of its own funding. The 2018 Farm Bill also told partners of RCPP projects to quantify the environmental outcomes of each project. And it allowed technical assistance payments to be made to partners to help the partners find farmers to participate in RCPP projects and support the farmers.

About the data

We received the RCPP data in the summer of 2023, through a Freedom of Information Act request submitted to the USDA. The database contains program payments by state, for fiscal years 2017 through 2022. The database only contains state-level payment data. While we submitted a FOIA request for county-level payments, the USDA maintains that they cannot release any more-granular data than payments by state.

For more information about the RCPP, see this NRCS website.


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