USDA NRCS Announces Regional Conservation Partnership Program’s Alternative Fund Arrangement Program is Open for Applications - Due May 18, 2020

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is now accepting applications for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program’s (RCPP) Alternative Fund Arrangement (AFA) program through May 18 with funding levels ranging from $250,000 to $10 million as detailed below.

What is the purpose of RCPP AFA? NRCS seeks to co-invest with RCPP partners to implement projects that demonstrate innovative solutions to conservation challenges and provide measurable improvements and outcomes tied to the resource concerns they seek to address. Through AFAs, approved project partners work directly with farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners on eligible land to carry out RCPP projects, as opposed to implementing projects through NRCS producer contracts and landowner easements. RCPP AFA funding flows directly to a lead partner - not from NRCS to producers or other entities.

Who is considered an eligible lead partner for RCPP AFA? The following are considered eligible lead partners:

  • An agricultural or silvicultural producer association or other group of producers;
  • A State or unit of local government;
  • An Indian Tribe;
  • A farmer cooperative;
  • A water district, irrigation district, rural water district or association, or other organization with specific water delivery authority to agricultural producers;
  • A municipal water or wastewater treatment entity;
  • An institution of higher education; and
  • An organization or entity with an established history of working cooperatively with producers on agricultural land, as determined by NRCS, to address:
    • Local conservation priorities related to agricultural production, wildlife habitat development, or nonindustrial private forest land management; or
    • Critical watershed-scale soil erosion, water quality, sediment reduction, or other natural resource issues.
  • An entity, such as an Indian Tribe, State government, local government, or a nongovernmental organization that has a program that purchases agricultural land easements, as defined in 7 CFR Section 1468.3.
  • A conservation district.

Individual producers and landowners are not eligible to submit project applications under this notice. NRCS gives substantial preference to lead partners that can provide to producers the technical assistance necessary to implement the conservation activities that are part of an RCPP AFA project.

What are the other eligibility requirements for the RCPP AFA program? Agricultural producers or eligible private landowners receiving NRCS financial or technical assistance funding as part of RCPP AFA projects must be in compliance with the 2018 Farm Bill’s highly erodible lands and wetlands conservation provisions, as well as the adjusted gross income limitation.

Additionally, RCPP projects must be carried out on private or Tribal: cropland, grassland, rangeland, pastureland, nonindustrial private forest land, or other land incidental to agricultural production (including wetlands and riparian buffers) on which significant natural resource issues could be addressed under the program.

What kinds of projects are eligible for the RCPP AFA program? RCPP AFA applications must propose one of the following project types:

  1. Projects making infrastructure investments relating to agricultural or nonindustrial private forest production that benefit multiple producers and address natural resource concerns such as drought, wildfire, or water quality impairment on the land covered by the project.
  2. Projects addressing natural resources concerns through targeted coordination with producers, including the development and implementation of watershed, habitat, or other area restoration plans (note that a proposal focused solely or largely on planning is unlikely to be competitive). Projects may use sophisticated targeting tools to identify priority areas for conservation or use innovative mechanisms to aggregate and streamline contracts for producers, all in service of maximizing conservation impacts at a watershed or regional scale.
  3. Projects that use innovative approaches to leverage the Federal investment in conservation with private financial mechanisms, in conjunction with agricultural production or forest resource management. These projects may include pay-for-performance, pay-for-success and environmental market approaches.
  4. Any other project consistent with program goals and objectives that cannot be effectively carried out through RCPP Classic program.

RCPP AFA applicants are encouraged to work with appropriate NRCS State RCPP Coordinators during the application process to determine if proposed projects align with RCPP goals and policies.

How does RCPP AFA project funding work? There are two funding pools for RCPP AFA and applicants must identify whether they are applying to the Critical Conservation Area (CCA) or State/Multistate funding pool. There are eight CCAs that represent landscapes with common resource concerns which are detailed in the Notice of Funding Opportunity. Proposals may only be submitted for competition in one funding pool.

RCPP funding provided by NRCS is divided into two categories – financial assistance (FA) and technical assistance (TA). Each RCPP partnership agreement will receive a commitment of funding as follows:

  • At least 70 percent FA—these funds are provided directly to producers/eligible entities to implement eligible RCPP activities.
  • Up to 30 percent TA—these funds are used to support implementation of the RCPP project.

All application budgets submitted by partners must be consistent with this funding breakdown.

What is the funding level for RCPP AFA projects? NRCS may select up to 15 RCPP AFA projects and intends to award up to $50 million in the 2020 fiscal year. The maximum funding available (combined financial and technical assistance) for any project selected under this RCPP AFA announcement is $10 million. The minimum funding amount is $250,000.

What is the role of partner contributions in project funding? RCPP AFA project funding is comprised of a combination of NRCS funding and partner contributions. It is NRCS’s goal that partner contributions at least equal the NRCS investment in a RCPP project. Partner contributions consist of any combination of direct funding and in-kind support.

In addition to the lead partner, RCPP AFA projects may include direct or in-kind contributions from other entities, known as “contributing partners.” Contributions may be provided by a non-lead eligible partner and may also be provided by a third-party individual or organization (even a non-USDA Federal agency) that would not qualify as an eligible party under the statutory definition of a project partner.

RCPP AFA’s full Notice of Funding Opportunity can be found here.

For more information on this grant or how to apply with Morrison’s assistance, please contact the Morrison Grants Team by email at grants@morrisonco.net or call us at 530-893-4764.

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