Cockeysville, Md. – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and chairman of the Water and Wildlife Subcommittee, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Jason Weller, and Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Buddy Hance visited a local Baltimore County farm Friday and met with national and state conservation partners for a kickoff of the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). Cardin, Weller and Hance were joined by leaders from the National Association of Conservation Districts and the Maryland Soil Conservation Districts for a first-hand look at conservation practices being used locally by farmer Hank Suchting. Cardin then hosted a roundtable with local farmers and potential recipients of funds through the RCPP. The Chesapeake Bay Watershed has just been officially designated as one of eight Critical Conservation Areas that is eligible for set-aside funding as part of the consolidated RCPP. The new program benefits the region’s farmers and continues a strong foundation for restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
“I am committed to helping our farmers and committed to helping the Chesapeake Bay. I am confident that we can do both effectively,” said Senator Cardin. “Maryland farmers understand how valuable a healthy Chesapeake Bay is to our region and our nation. We need to spread the word about what federal and state cost-sharing and in-kind resources are available that will benefit their farming operation and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Keeping these conservation programs robust was a priority for the Chesapeake Bay delegation.”
“Decisions about conservation must be made at the local level. RCPP brings conservation groups, cities and townships, sportsmen groups, universities, agricultural associations and businesses together to do just that–design conservation projects that are tailored to the needs of the citizens and communities in Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed,” said Jason Weller, Chief, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
“We applaud Maryland’s congressional delegation for their leadership in ensuring our treasured Chesapeake Bay was included as one of the eight critical conservation areas,” said Maryland Agriculture Secretary Buddy Hance. “This historic conservation program will leverage existing strong partnerships within our watershed to fund innovative projects that address conservation needs and improve water quality.”
“The conservation districts look forward to working with both old partners and new partnerships to get more conservation on the ground through this new Federal program,” said Lee McDaniel, President of the National Association of Conservation Districts.
“Maryland’s soil conservation districts look forward to working with both our traditional and non-traditional partners to build on the work we have done with farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to install best management practices to improve water quality. The RCPP is an innovative approach to bring new funding to the table and these funds, combined with the districts technical expertise, have the opportunity to make great improvements to the Bay,” said Lynne Hoot, Executive Director of the Maryland Association of Soil Conservation Districts.
The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), which will receive more than $100 million annually in mandatory funds – $400 million for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 –emphasizes cooperation between producers and regional stakeholders to work together to improve the effectiveness of agricultural conservation activities by leveraging non-government funds in support of conservation projects. The RCPP also focuses conservation funds on regions with the greatest conservation needs. Allocation of the funding is divided between a state competitive process (25%), USDA’s National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) for projects based on national competitive process (40%) and projects in up to eight critical conservation areas (35%)- of which the Chesapeake Bay watershed is one.
Eligible purposes are projects that would be eligible under Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and a few other NRCS conservation programs designed to preserve and protect water quality and water quantity and forested lands.
Examples of eligible conservation activities include:
- Water quality restoration or enhancement projects, including nutrient management and sediment reduction
- Water quality conservation, restoration or enhancement projects relating to surface water groundwater resources including; the conversion of irrigated cropland to the production of less water-intensive commodities, dry land farming; irrigation system improvement
- Drought mitigation
- Flood prevention
- Water retention
- Air Quality improvement
- Habitat conservation, restoration, and enhancement
- Erosion control and sediment reduction
- Forest restoration
- Easement acquisition activities associated with wetland restoration and protection or the preservation of working agricultural lands.
Producers may apply for RCPP assistance in several ways: At the producer’s request, a partner may submit the application for participation in a selected project area; directly at their local USDA Service Center in a selected project area; directly at their local USDA Service center in a critical conservation area designated by the Secretary of Agriculture. Pre-proposals are due July 14, and full proposal are due September 26. For more information, see this link at USDA.