USDA leads $720m funding for conservation projects

More than half of the 84 projects approved for funding in 2016 focus on water quality and access.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the private sector have committed $720 million to projects aimed at increasing innovative conservation efforts on private land in the US.

The commitments are the second round of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), which provides the funding mandated by the 2014 Farm Bill. The USDA has now committed a total of $600 million to 199 projects through the programme, with an additional $900 million committed from private and local partners.

For this round, the USDA is responsible for $220 million in commitments, with the remaining $500 million coming from local private partners.  However, the USDA received 265 applications requesting nearly $900 million, four times the amount of available federal funding. Local partners undertaking projects must be able to at least match any USDA commitment.

Overall, the programme calls for $1.2 billion in investments from the USDA by 2018, with matching partner funds expected to bring total commitments for the program to more than $2.4 billion.

In light of severe droughts in the West and poor access to clean water in urban areas, 45 of the 84 programmes chosen for funding this year will address water quality, conservation or access. Other areas targeted by RCPP programs include soil health, air quality, and the preservation of wildlife habitats and agricultural viability.

“We have seen record enrollment of privately owned lands in USDA’s conservation programs under this Administration, and the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program will be instrumental in building on those numbers and demonstrating that government and private entities can work together for greater impacts on America’s communities,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

The funding comes as investors increasingly look to sustainable farming practices to reduce their risk and increase efficiency. Agri-focused private equity group SLM Partners released a white paper earlier this year arguing that ecologically friendly practices reduce farming costs and insulate agri investments from market volatility. Last year, executives for asset management group Edmond de Rothschild told Agri Investor that social and environmental impacts constitute investment risks which have historically been under-weighted by investors.