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Source: Iowa Soybean Association news release

Collaboration and innovation are at the heart of a new five-year, $2.4 billion program announced this week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture aimed at improving water and soil quality.

The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), authorized in the latest Farm Bill, promotes coordination between the Natural Resources Conservation Service and its partners to deliver conservation assistance to farmers and landowners. American Soybean Association President Ray Gaesser of Corning said it will usher in a new era of more effective voluntary conservation that will benefit farmers and communities.

"This is not business as usual," said Gaesser, a long-time soybean leader who farms with his son Chris in southwest Iowa. "It represents a new way of implementing the Farm Bill to target resources through public-private partnerships to priority watersheds where funding is most needed."

These priority regions, known as Critical Conservation Areas, include the Mississippi River Basin, Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay. The RCPP will help address resource challenges in those regions and over time, help improve water quality within those watersheds.

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said the department will invest $1.2 billion over the life of the five-year program, including $400 million in the first year, and leverage an additional $1.2 billion from participatory partners. Business, communities, universities, agricultural associations, conservation groups and other entities are eligible to participate.

Iowa farmers and communities stand to benefit from the program as a result of the Mississippi River basin's priority status, said Roger Wolf, director of Environmental Programs and Services for the Iowa Soybean Association.

"Soil and water quality are the primary concerns addressed by this program, just as they are with the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy implemented last year," Wolf said. "This alignment is meaningful and timely, with the RCPP providing additional funding that will bolster not only the success of the RCPP, but local, state-based efforts like the strategy."

The RCPP will competitively award funds to conservation projects designed by local partners to improve soil health, water quality and water use efficiency. Projects will be tailored for specific regions.

That's appealing to Steve Hershner, utilities director for Cedar Rapids.

"We look forward to working with upstream partners in the Cedar River watershed to implement nitrate control projects that could improve source water quality for our 130,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers," he said.

The USDA is accepting proposals for the program. Pre-proposals are due July 14 and full proposals due Sept. 26. For more information, go to and keyword search "Regional Conservation Partnership Program."

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