Stabenow, Ernst Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Strengthen Conservation Partnerships in the 2018 Farm Bill

Improvements to the successful Regional Conservation Partnership Program will cut red tape for producers and attract new projects

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry joined her Agriculture Committee colleague U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) to strengthen the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) – an innovative approach to conservation authored by Senator Stabenow in the 2014 Farm Bill. The bipartisan Regional Conservation Partnership Program Improvement Act will provide more resources for partners to expand the reach of conservation projects, while cutting red-tape and increasing flexibility to attract new participants.

“This initiative is one of the largest commitments ever made to protecting our land and water, and is one of the biggest Farm Bill success stories in Michigan, and all across the country,” said Senator Stabenow. “Businesses, non-profits and conservation leaders are working alongside farmers at the local level to improve water quality in our Great Lakes and create new habitats for hunting and fishing. This new bill incorporates ideas we’ve heard from current participants to pave the way for even more innovative conservation work.”

“Our farmers and producers have an innate understanding of how to best care for the land they rely on to feed and fuel our world,” said Senator Ernst. “As we have seen in Iowa, the RCPP is a successful and cost-effective approach to encourage voluntary and proactive conservation. Such success makes it critically important to further develop the RCPP in order to continue incentivizing rural and urban partnerships, and allow greater flexibility in their efforts to improve water quality and soil health.”

The 2014 Farm Bill created a first-of-its-kind approach to conservation through partnerships between agriculture and conservation groups to improve water quality, restore habitats for hunting and fishing, and protect the Great Lakes. These locally-led partnerships leverage private and public dollars to bring together partners to address regional conservation issues. Since its inception, the RCPP has leveraged more than $1.2 billion in private funding and brought together over 2,000 diverse partners to address local conservation goals.

The bipartisan Regional Conservation Partnership Program Improvement Act includes suggestions from current partners to make the program work better for producers. The bill eliminates burdensome program requirements and streamlines contracts, cutting red tape and providing more flexibility for farmers implementing conservation practices.

Additionally, the bill targets resources to expand conservation work and strengthens the focus on targeted outcomes such as improved water quality, drought resilience, and wildlife habitat. In an effort to bring more participants into the program, the bill also creates incentives for more diverse partnerships and facilitates innovative approaches to conservation through a new pilot grant program.

For more information, find the bill summary fact sheet here and the bill text here.

The bipartisan bill is supported by the Nature Conservancy, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Michigan Farm Bureau, and the Iowa Soybean Association in addition to more than 70 other stakeholders.

Mark Recker, Iowa Corn Growers Association (ICGA) President and farmer from Arlington, Iowa: “Iowa Corn is a partner in multiple RCPP projects. Our experiences have been positive, but we believe that any new program can be improved upon. ICGA’s priority for conservation in the next farm bill is simpler programs that help farmers address challenges on working lands and better incorporate the farmer perspective. We believe this legislation adds additional flexibility for farmers and partners to do more innovative work in the areas of conservation and water quality. We thank Senator Ernst and Senator Stabenow for their commitment to improving RCPP.”

Lynn Scarlett, Co-Chief External Affairs Officer of The Nature Conservancy: “The RCPP empowers communities and drives public-private partnerships to find local, innovative solutions to natural resource challenges at the watershed and landscape levels. We thank Senator Stabenow and Senator Ernst for the introduction of this bipartisan bill, which will increase the effectiveness of this vital conservation program.”

Whit Fosburgh, President and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP): “Created in the 2014 Farm Bill as an innovative way to scale up private land conservation and tackle some of our nation’s most pressing conservation challenges, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program is strongly supported by hunters and anglers. The RCPP Improvement Act seeks to further enhance the program, taking the lessons of the last several years of on-the-ground implementation and improving benefits for landowners, conservation partners and, most importantly, natural resources. The TRCP supports these steps and applauds Senator Stabenow and Senator Ernst for introducing this bipartisan bill.”

Carl Bednarski, President, Michigan Farm Bureau: “On behalf of Michigan Farm Bureau’s 44,000 farming families, we thank Senator Stabenow for her continued support for voluntary conservation programs, including her leadership for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). RCPP has been an important conservation tool for Michigan that’s allowed us to focus additional resources in areas such as the Western Lake Erie Basin. Michigan Farm Bureau supports the Regional Conservation Partnership Program and feel it benefits agriculture and resource protection. We appreciate Ranking Member Stabenow’s dedication to RCPP. We look forward to working with her on making this program work for farmers and the environment.”

Bill Shipley, President of the Iowa Soybean Association: “The RCPP Improvement Act is important step in expanding, streamlining and further focusing USDA support of collaborative partnerships resulting in greater returns on our conservation investments. Our farmers have had good success working in partnership with cities, state agencies, conservation groups and others using the RCPP to achieve progress on our Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. The proposed changes will result in more funding, less red tape for farmers and partners, and support of watershed approach all resulting in more bang for the buck, which we strongly support.  The Iowa Soybean Association thanks Senators Ernst and Stabenow for introducing this legislation.”