Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joined Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow to launch a new era in American conservation efforts with an historic focus on public-private partnership. Vilsack made the announcement in Bay City, Mich., which sits at the heart of the Saginaw Bay watershed in the center of the Great Lakes region, an area where agriculture is a leading industry.
Vilsack also praised Senator Stabenow for her leadership as Agriculture Committee Chair to improve conservation programs in Michigan and across the nation, and acknowledged her work to craft and secure passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, which authorized USDA to create the new conservation program.
"This is an entirely new approach to conservation," said Vilsack. "We're giving private companies, local communities, and other non-government partners a way to invest in what are essentially clean water start-up operations. By establishing new public-private partnerships, we can have an impact that's well beyond what the Federal government could accomplish on its own. These efforts keep our land resilient and water clean, and promote tremendous economic growth in agriculture, construction, tourism and outdoor recreation, and other industries."
Along the Saginaw Bay, intensive agricultural production, industrial pollution and other factors have created a need for enhanced water quality efforts. The new conservation program announced today, called the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), will benefit similar areas across the nation. RCPP streamlines conservation efforts by combining four programs (the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative, and the Great Lakes Basin Program for Soil Erosion) into one.
The RCPP will competitively award funds to conservation projects designed by local partners specifically for their region. Eligible partners include private companies, universities, non-profit organizations, local and tribal governments and others joining with agricultural and conservation organizations and producers to invest money, manpower and materials to their proposed initiatives. With participating partners investing along with the Department, USDA's $1.2 billion in funding over the life of the five-year program can leverage an additional $1.2 billion from partners for a total of $2.4 billion for conservation. $400 million in USDA funding is available in the first year. Through RCPP, partners propose conservation projects to improve soil health, water quality and water use efficiency, wildlife habitat, and other related natural resources on private lands.