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A guide to the recent USDA conservation investments

Find the right programs for your farm.

The USDA has released major announcements in the past several weeks regarding investments in conservation funding. They all reflect the priorities to address climate change and provide opportunities for farmers to successfully adopt climate-smart practices.

NRCS Chief Terry Cosby says, “As part of the Biden administration, we are talking about climate-smart agriculture and forestry. I’ve spent the 42 years of my career working in conservation. I’ve seen a lot of things over my career and nothing more exciting than what we’re doing today.”

As the country faces drought, wildfire, and flooding, conservation efforts can be solutions that help mitigate their effects in addition to supporting carbon sequestration.

“We know conservation programs are important,” Cosby says. “They help land users build resilience in their farming operations. It helps them stay sustainable. And because we know we have a growing world, we need fruits and vegetables, corn and soybeans, and all other crops to help feed a growing population. Conservation programs are really important to help landowners maintain the health of the soil and the viability of their operations.”

Cosby explains that programs are becoming streamlined so that they’re more understandable and more producers will be willing to participate.

Below is a brief profile of each announced investment to help you find where to begin. 

Nationwide EQIP Conservation Incentive Contracts

Conservation Incentive Contracts offer annual incentive payments to implement management practices as well as conservation evaluation and monitoring activities. 

The Conservation Incentive Contracts was piloted in four states last year. Due to its success, it has expanded nationwide.
 
“We identified about 30 agronomic practices that will help mitigate climate change and are eligible practices in the Conservation Incentive Contracts,” says Cosby. “This is a stepping stone to the Conservation Stewardship Program.”

Partnerships with Farmers for Soil Health and a new Cover Crop Initiative

Farmers for Soil Health is an initiative started by the United Soybean Board, National Corn Growers Association, and National Pork Board. The initiative offers incentives for farmers to increase the number of cover crops on corn and soybean farms.

In addition, a targeted Cover Crop Initiative will be rolled out this year to 11 states. The $38 million program aims to mitigate climate change through widespread cover crop use. Chosen for their demonstrated demand for increased cover crop assistance, the program is available in:

  • Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and South Dakota

Sign-up dates will be determined on the state level, with final applications for funding selected by February 11.

READ MORE: USDA expands conservation programs for 2022

$50 million invested to expand access to conservation assistance

In total, 118 two-year project partnerships have been selected to receive this investment through the Equity Conservation Cooperative Agreement, administered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

The projects are designed to expand the delivery of conservation assistance to farmers who are new to farming, low income, socially disadvantaged, or military veterans.

READ MORE: USDA invests $50 million in partnerships to expand access to conservation assistance

Up to $225 million investment in partner-driven conservation

The Regional Conservation Partnership Program is a public-private partner-driven program for projects that address climate change, benefit historically underserved producers, and support urban agriculture.

The two types of funding are RCPP Classic and RCPP Alternative Funding Arrangements (AFA).

  • RCPP Classic projects are implemented using NRCS contracts and easements with producers, landowners, and communities, in collaboration with project partners. Eligible applicants include: state or local government, an Indian Tribe, farmer cooperative, water district, and more.
  • Through RCPP AFA, partners have more flexibility in working directly with agricultural producers to support the development of new conservation structures and approaches that would not otherwise be available under RCPP Classic. Eligible applicants are similar to RCPP Classic.

READ MORE: USDA to invest up to $225 million in partner-driven conservation

$9 million investment in new Cooperative Extension and USDA Climate Hubs partnerships

Six initial projects are already funded by the USDA and are part of the part of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) grant program.

They include partnerships between:

  • The University of California (Davis) and the California Climate Hub
  • Pennsylvania State University and Northern Forests and Southeast Climate Hubs
  • Montana State University and the Southwest and Northwest Plains Climate Hub
  • Ohio State University and the Midwest Climate Hub
  • The Desert Research Institute Native Climate and the Southwest and Northern Plains Climate Hub
  • The USDA Caribbean Climate Hub and the University of Puerto Rico and the University of the Virgin Islands

READ MORE: USDA invests $9 million to expand reach and increase adoption of climate-smart practices

Increased funding will result in increased staffing to help farmers participate in programs.

“I'm excited about future opportunities for additional investments in our conservation programs and policies,” Chief Cosby says. “Our programs are oversubscribed throughout the country and Build Back Better would make a historic investment in climate-smart agriculture and forestry support.”

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