wetland area along the Platte River basin in Nebraska.
The restored Derr Sandpit wetland area along the Platte River basin in Nebraska. © Chris Helzer


USDA Announces New Investments in Conservation Partnership Projects

TNC-led projects aim to improve soil health, watershed management

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced it will invest $206 million in 48 targeted, high-impact conservation projects across the country.

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) will serve as the lead on three of these projects: one in Nebraska worth $4.4 million, a second in Arkansas worth $2.7 million and a third in Alabama worth $1 million.

The projects are the first round of Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) awards under the 2018 Farm Bill. The program supports public-private partnerships working toward local, innovative solutions to difficult natural resource challenges, including water quality, flood prevention and crop resilience.

Since its establishment under the 2014 Farm Bill, RCPP has mobilized almost 2,000 partners who have invested close to $2 billion in on-the-ground conservation work across the country. The Farm Bill passed by Congress in 2018 tripled RCPP’s direct funding from $100 million a year to $300 million a year.

“We know that through conservation partnerships, the RCPP benefits our rural communities, our families and nature,” said Jenny Conner Nelms, TNC’s senior policy advisor for agriculture. “We are excited the 2018 Farm Bill made the program stronger, more efficient and flexible to help farmers and ranchers access these conservation resources.  

“The program offers voluntary solutions to real issues facing agricultural producers by working to improve resilience to drought, reduce flooding, improve soil health and restore habitats. We look forward to further growing our relationships with the agricultural sector and collaborating with local partners through this program.”

Projects are selected on a competitive basis, and local private partners must be able to at least match the USDA commitment. The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) administers the program.

The projects for which TNC is the lead are as follows:

  • Nebraska: Resilient Futures for Nebraska Soil – The five-year award from NRCS, matched by companies in the agricultural supply chain, will provide technical and financial assistance to farmers in central Nebraska as they adopt soil health practices on an estimated 100,000 acres. Eligible producers will have the option of implementing three soil health practices: cover cropping, reduced tillage and diversified crop rotations. The project will serve as an Ecosystem Services Market Consortium pilot, which connects farmers to private sector payments for soil health practice adoption. The consortium, while new, provides a way to scale up the adoption of these practices.

“I am pleased that The Nature Conservancy’s Nebraska project was selected for this award,” said Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb. “This is a good conservation win and an example of how public-private partnerships can work to support Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers in their continued efforts to be good stewards of the land. I look forward to seeing how this award created by 2018 Farm Bill will foster partnerships to benefit farmers as they care for the land and implement soil health practices.”

  • Arkansas: Buffalo River Watershed Enhancement Project – The project will focus on reducing sediment and nutrient loads in the Buffalo National River by working with interested landowners on a suite of conservation practices to improve farm sustainability and water quality. The project partnership, consisting of the local cattlemen’s association, Farm Bureau, Greater Searcy County Chamber of Commerce and others, was key in developing a proposal that addresses local challenges and provides a foundation for continued collaboration throughout the watershed. The partnership will work with interested landowners through outreach and sites visits, as well as facilitate workshops on grazing lands, unpaved road and streamside management. Additionally, the partnership will provide financial and technical assistance for project implementation. 
  • Alabama: Streambank Restoration Initiative – The award will fund a five-year project to restore streambanks and habitats in Alabama’s Paint Rock River, Big Canoe Creek and Locust Fork watersheds. The partnership award will support the Streambank Restoration Initiative, which will help restore degrading streambanks and enhance aquatic habitats that have been designated a priority by TNC and other partners.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 76 countries and territories: 37 by direct conservation impact and 39 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.