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A Guide to Outcome Measurement for RCPP Grants

In recent years, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) has been instrumental in fostering public-private collaborations to promote climate-smart agriculture in the US. In this article, you’ll see how to prepare for your RCPP application and execute on a project plan.

The RCPP program’s scope has been transformed with an additional $1.2 billion of funding to increase climate-smart agriculture projects to a total of $1.5 billion. Even with this budget size, this year’s grant cycle is expected to be highly competitive. Just last year over a billion dollars were awarded, and the demand for funds was still four times greater than the total budget.

One notable example of an RCPP recipient is the Red River Basin Commission, which received a $20 million grant to improve soil health, nutrient management, and water conservation on 450,000 acres. This RCPP grant helped leverage additional private funding from partners like the Walmart Foundation, PepsiCo, and General Mills.

Being awarded one of these competitive grants hinges on crafting an application that includes a thoughtful, rigorous approach on outcome measurement and corporate participation.

Read on for keys to preparing a RCPP application and executing a project plan:

  • Outcomes expected from an RCPP grant
  • Important considerations for outcome measurement
  • How to vet a measurement partner

RCPP project outcomes will predominantly focus on climate-specific outcomes within agriculture.

RCPP projects need to align with key thematic priorities like climate-smart agriculture, urban agriculture, conservation, and environmental justice. Due to the funding from the Inflation Reduction Act, over three quarters of the $1.5 billion is allocated for projects with climate-specific outcomes, such as GHG emissions.

It’s also important to align the project impacts with specific conservation priorities within state/multistate areas or NRCS-designated critical conservation areas (CCAs), which includes soil and water quality degradation and drought mitigation.

For agricultural interventions specifically, lead organizations will need to quantify impacts on greenhouse gas emissions from activities like:

  • Soil carbon sequestration from reduced tillage and cover cropping
  • Reducing nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizers
  • Reducing methane from manure management

These interventions are not only vital for achieving climate goals but also for enhancing soil health, improving water retention and quality, and promoting regenerative agricultural practices. By accurately measuring these impacts, projects can demonstrate how these interventions overlay with key priorities of RCPP grants.

Measuring these climate-specific outcomes is a large undertaking and greatly benefits from a technology partner.

Managing data collection and synthesis for climate outcomes requires several demanding steps: 

  1. Establishing a GHG emissions baseline to compare against project outcomes.
  2. Establishing farmer relationships and documenting farming practice adoption rates in each project area. This will help to ensure you incentivize the most impactful interventions for the right farmers.
  3. Enrolling farmers and collecting data such as yield, tillage practice, cover cropping, and fertilizer and manure use.
  4. Tracking farmer interventions and calculating the outcomes (e.g. emissions reductions) across the project area.
  5. Organizing and compiling data for third-party verifiers (if applicable for the project)

Each step of this process requires rigorous data collection and analysis that is labor intensive and often requires in-person field visits. It’s industry best practice to work with a technology partner that specializes in monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) of project outcomes while also allowing for seamless farmer enrollment. Modern MRV technology platforms automate a number of manual tasks and enable project staff to manage each step of an on-farm project at scale and with scientific rigor.

This partnership yields multiple benefits:

  1. Improved application quality: With a very competitive application process, leveraging a technology partner that uses rigorous modeling (such as Regrow’s DNDC model) will help differentiate your project from less rigorous outcome estimations.
  1. Increased corporate involvement: Corporations are important partners in RCPP grants as they contribute matching funds, farmer networks, and additional expertise. As project partners, private sector companies will often seek to make progress against corporate sustainability commitments that can be verified and reported. By using a reputable technology provider that aligns with leading third-party standards and protocols, your project will be more suitable for corporate matching by ensuring they make progress towards emissions targets.
  1. Better farmer participation: Project success is dependent on high farmer enrollment, and manual data collection process and cumbersome practice verification can deter farmer enrollment in climate-smart programs. A technology partner similar to Regrow can simplify the process, streamline farmer enrollment, and increase participation. 
  1. More holistic project impact measurement: Every project will have several cross-cutting outcomes. For example, cover cropping and nutrient management will both reduce GHG emissions while also improving water quality. A technology provider unlocks the ability to capture a wide range of outcomes that further strengthens your RCPP application and ensures you’re not leaving any impact on the table.

Your technology partner should use rigorous methodologies aligned with leading protocols.

There are a few criteria you can use to assess a technology partner’s fit for  your RCPP project:

  1. Aligned with third-party protocols: Do they have experience working within the Climate Action Reserve, Verra, and SustainCERT protocols to ensure that it fits requirements for corporate participation? Alignment with third-party protocols demonstrates rigor and ability to meet measurement requirements for all project partners.
  1. Experience working at scale: RCPP projects require farmer enrollment, practice monitoring, and outcome measurement over long periods of time with large groups. Look for partners with experience overcoming the challenges associated with scaling a project.
  1. Experience working with both RCPP projects and Fortune 500 companies:  A technology provider familiar with both the application process and program execution for both public and private programs will provide valuable application feedback and ensure projects continue smoothly.
  1. Leveraging dynamic, Tier 3 level data: A technology provider producing Tier 3 data (the highest level of data according to the IPCC) will differentiate your application and ensure you’re capturing the full range of impacts of your project.

In need of a technology provider support for an RCPP grant?

If you’re an NGO, project developer, or other organization considering the best way to improve your RCPP application quality and streamline your project activities, click here to get in touch with Regrow’s partnerships team, who has experience working on winning RCPP applications.

Our platform is bolstered by DNDC, Regrow’s proprietary biogeochemical model that aligns with leading protocols such as Climate Action Reserve, Verra, and SustainCERT, as well OpTIS, remote-sensed satellite imagery to monitor and verify regenerative agriculture techniques, such as tillage reduction and cover-crop adoption.

Regrow has enrolled thousands of farmers globally, and our team and technology have supported the largest climate-smart agriculture programs in the world, the likes of Cargill, Unilever, and Kellanova as well as NGO’s like The Nature Conservancy and Walton Family Foundation.

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