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Madison — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that 88 high-impact projects across the country will receive $225 million in federal funding as part of the USDA's Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). In addition, partners have proposed to contribute up to an additional $500 million to improve the nation's water quality, combat drought, enhance soil health, support wildlife habitat and protect agricultural viability.

With today's announcement, the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is investing a total of $825 million in 286 projects, bringing together more than 2,000 conservation partners who have committed an estimated $1.4 billion in financial and technical assistance. By 2018, NRCS and its partners, including Indian tribes, nonprofit organizations, state and local governments, private industry, water districts, universities and many others, will have invested at least $2.4 billion through RCPP, which was created by the 2014 Farm Bill.

"RCPP plays a critical role in connecting partners with producers to design and implement conservation solutions that benefit both natural resources and agriculture," Vilsack said. "The Farm Bill is the largest source of federal funding for private lands conservation, and RCPP is contributing innovative conservation solutions to communities across the country."

RCPP offers new opportunities for the NRCS, conservation partners and agricultural producers to work together to harness innovation, expand the conservation mission, and demonstrate the value and efficacy of voluntary, private lands conservation. The program is increasing investment in conservation from a diversity of partners, leading to cleaner and more abundant water, improved soil and air quality, enhanced wildlife habitat, and stronger rural economies.

Water quality and drought are dominant themes in this year's RCPP project list with 46 of the 88 projects focusing on water resource concerns. More than a fourth of the projects are focused on improving fish and wildlife habitat. See the full list of 2017 projects spanning the country, impacting almost every state in the nation and Puerto Rico.

Wisconsin project

In Wisconsin, NRCS is investing $600,000 in the Lafayette County Agricultural Enterprise Area Water Quality Project, which is proposed by the partnership of Wis. Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Within the Pecatonica River watershed, there are many waterways identified on the Federal 303(d) list of impaired waters and sections of the watershed have been identified as priority areas for phosphorous and nitrogen reduction. The project will mobilize an existing informal network of landowners to address these water quality concerns through the widespread adoption and installation of conservation practices. The project’s goal is to build a self-sustaining network of landowners and producers to take ownership over conservation activities in the watershed.

Ten partners have committed to pooling their resources, more than doubling federal investment, to support and advance landowner efforts to reduce runoff of excess nutrients and sediment from agricultural land. This collaborative effort to increase conservation work on agricultural lands will address soil health and water quality while ensuring continued agricultural viability for future generations farmers.

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