Grant Funding up to $10 million for Regional Conservation Partnership Program - Due November 4, 2020

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is receiving proposals for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program with funding levels ranging from $250,000 to $10 million. The total funding availability for this announcement, that combines RCPP funding for FY 2020 and 2021, is up to $360 million.

What is the NRCS’ Regional Conservation Partnership Program? The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) is an innovative program that has as its critical feature a co-investment approach through which NRCS and partners collaborate to implement natural resource conservation activities. Following are the four key principles of RCPP:

  1. Impact - RCPP proposals must propose effective and compelling solutions that address one or more natural resource priorities (as defined in RCPP’s National Funding Announcement (NFO), page 7 and on the RCPP website) to help solve natural resource challenges. Partners are responsible for evaluating a project’s impact and results.
  2. Partner Contributions - Partners are responsible for identifying any combination of cash and in-kind value-added contributions to leverage NRCS’s RCPP investments. It is NRCS’s goal that partner contributions at least equal the NRCS investment in an RCPP project. Substantive and sizable partner contributions are given priority consideration as part of the RCPP proposal evaluation criteria.
  3. Innovation - NRCS seeks projects that integrate multiple conservation approaches, implement innovative conservation approaches or technologies, build new partnerships, or effectively take advantage of program flexibilities to deliver conservation solutions.
  4. Partnerships and Management - Partners must have experience, expertise, and capacity to manage the partnership and project, provide outreach to producers, and quantify the environmental (and when possible, economic and social) outcomes of an RCPP project. RCPP ranking criteria give priority consideration to applicants that meaningfully engage historically underserved farmers and ranchers.

Successful RCPP applicants bring an array of financial and technical capabilities to projects, demonstrate experience working effectively and collaboratively with agricultural producers and landowners across the landscape, and propose innovative, sustainable, and measurable approaches to achieving compelling conservation outcomes.

Who is eligible to apply? Eligible organizations interested in partnering with NRCS on conservation projects can develop applications for the RCPP competition. The lead partner for an RCPP project is the entity that submits a project proposal, and if selected for an award, negotiates and executes an RCPP programmatic partnership agreement (PPA) with NRCS. The lead partner is ultimately responsible for ensuring completion of project deliverables, delivering all partner contributions, and assessing project outcomes.

 Lead partner entities must qualify as one of the following:

  • 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, acequia, 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.
  • 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 farmland or grassland protection program that purchases agricultural land easements, as defined in 7 CFR Section 1468.3.
  • A conservation district.

Producer and Landowner Eligibility

Once NRCS selects a project and executes an RCPP agreement with a lead partner, agricultural producers may participate in an RCPP project in one of two ways. First, producers may engage with project partners and delegate a willing partner to act as their representative in working with NRCS. Second, producers seeking to carry out conservation activities consistent with a RCPP project in the project’s geographic area can apply directly to NRCS.

Land Eligibility

RCPP projects must be carried out on agricultural or nonindustrial private forest land or associated land on which NRCS determines an eligible activity would help achieve conservation benefits (i.e., improved condition of natural resources resulting from implementation of conservation activities). Eligible conservation activities may be implemented on public lands when those activities will benefit eligible lands as determined by NRCS and are included in the scope of an approved RCPP project.

What types of project activities are eligible? Proposals must explicitly request funding for at least one of the following eligible activity types, which correspond to eligible RCPP activities:

  • Land management
  • Land rental
  • Entity-held easements
  • U.S.-held easements
  • Public works/watersheds

A single RCPP project proposal may propose any combination of these eligible activity types be included as part of an RCPP project. For example, an eligible partner could propose to improve wildlife habitat in a given geographic area by engaging producers to carry out land management activities, restore habitat, and place perpetual easements on agricultural lands. Eligible producer(s) would carry out the land management and habitat restoration activities through RCPP land management contracts, while entity-held or U.S.-held conservation easements would be purchased from the eligible landowner(s) through a separate award(s).

Will there be priority consideration for specific applicants? NRCS gives priority consideration to RCPP proposals that propose to meaningfully and measurably engage and benefit historically underserved farmers, ranchers, and landowners. Historically underserved producers may be eligible for special incentives to encourage their participation in RCPP projects. The definition of historically underserved includes beginning, limited resource, socially disadvantaged, and veteran producers. The definitions for these terms are available here. The narrative question section of the proposal in the RCPP portal provides an opportunity for applicants to explain how their project will substantively engage and benefit historically underserved producers.

Are there specific requirements regarding RCPP funding? RCPP funding provided by NRCS is divided into two categories - financial assistance (FA) and technical assistance (TA). Each RCPP PPA will receive a commitment of funding as follows:

  • At least 70 percent FA - These funds are held by NRCS and provided directly to producers/eligible entities to implement eligible RCPP activities.
  • Up to 30 percent TA - These funds may be retained by NRCS or split between NRCS and partners to support implementation (e.g., conservation planning, practice design, easement survey, and appraisal and closing expenses) of the RCPP project. TA Responsibilities are detailed on page 13 of the NFO.

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

What are the RCPP fund pools? RCPP applicants must identify in their proposals whether they are applying to a critical conservation area (CCA) or State/multistate fund pool.

CCA Pool - There are eight CCAs that represent landscapes with common resource concerns. For each CCA, NRCS has identified priority resource concerns. CCA proposals must address at least one of the relevant CCA’s priority resource concerns. CCAs and associate priority resource concerns are detailed in the NFO, page 7 and on the RCPP website. CCA projects must take place wholly within a CCA (counties traversed by a CCA border are considered within the CCA boundary).

State/multistate Pool - Proposals in the State/multistate category must be carried out either within a single State or in multiple States. For multistate projects, priority consideration is given to proposals identifying a manageable number of States.

What are the funding levels for this program? The maximum RCPP funding available for any project (combined financial and technical assistance) selected under this announcement is $10 million. The minimum funding amount for an RCPP project is $250,000.

Up to $360 million is available for RCPP projects through this funding announcement. Fifty percent of RCPP funding is dedicated to NRCS-designated critical conservation area (CCA) projects and 50 percent to projects in the State/multistate category. The FY 2021 RCPP Alternative Funding Arrangement (AFA) competition will be implemented through a separate funding announcement.

Is there a cost-sharing/ match requirement? There is no cost/-sharing/match requirement. However, RCPP project funding is comprised of a combination of NRCS funding and partner contributions. It is NRCS’s goal that partner contributions be at least equal to the NRCS investment in an RCPP project. Partner contributions consist of any combination of cash and in-kind support, and may complement either NRCS’s FA or TA, or both. Certain RCPP activities such as entity-held easements and public works activities have specific minimum matching fund requirements (as detailed in Appendix I) which may count as partner contributions if they meet requirements detailed in this announcement.

What is the project duration? RCPP funds are committed by NRCS for the duration of the project, generally not to exceed five years from the date of the grant execution agreement. Partners may request a term of longer than five years in exceptional circumstances.

When are applications due? Proposals must be received no later than November 4, 2020 by 11:59 pm Eastern Time.

The full National Funding Opportunity (NFO) is available 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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