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Initiatives

Four initiatives, representing items which attendees and stakeholders agreed were priorities for action, are proposed. Each of these initiatives will be led by individuals and organizations in Pennsylvania with expertise and commitment to advance plans to action.

These enhancements will complement existing USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and state training programs to build the technical network of conservation professionals necessary to meet increased farmer demand for developing plans and implementing their associated conservation practices. Partners will explore development of training offerings to fill identified gaps and streamline training for interested professionals, as well as students within existing course offerings and degree and/or certificate programs. Farmer-to-farmer approaches and community, technical and vo-ag schooling opportunities will also be pursued.

The exciting new consensus based, collaborative strategy that has emerged from the conference embraces agriculture and its ingrained culture of stewardship, which constitutes the overarching theme infusing the entire partnership’s work moving forward. We are looking to agriculture for leadership and to be the solution for clean water.

An agricultural certification program will recognize and reward producers who have reached a high bar of conservation. Recognition based, certainty based and market based incentives will all be explored to encourage producers to pursue certification.

Conference attendees emphasized the importance of focusing efforts in priority watersheds, where nutrient loads are high, local impairments exist, and local efforts are underway and can be built upon. To succeed in this prioritization effort, delivery mechanisms need to be developed and supported, including technical assistance in developing watershed plans which identify the right practices to be implemented in the right places, investment in partnership development and partnership management infrastructure, and the cultivation of and support for local leadership through watershed leadership training.

During the final session of the conference attendees discussed recommendations for moving forward, identifying short and long term action items, additional stakeholders to approach, and organizational frameworks for advancing conference outcomes.

Since the conference, the AEC has facilitated additional feedback to advance conference outcomes.  The conference planning committee was reconvened in April 2016 to develop an action plan for moving forward recommendations identified at the conference, and to decide upon a framework to continue to successfully advance the ideas of conference participants.

In April and May 2016, key state and federal agencies, including DEP, PDA, EPA, USDA, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality were debriefed in a series of meetings, at which conference outcomes were presented and ideas for priority initiatives were discussed. In July and August 2016, further feedback was gathered from planning committee members, conference attendees and other stakeholders.

In August 2016 at Ag Progress Days, Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding and Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences Dean Richard Roush convened a forum to discuss water quality initiatives in agriculture and the Pennsylvania in the Balance Conference. Following this forum, the AEC led three public listening sessions to gather additional input.

On October 12, 2016, the College of Agricultural Sciences hosted Pennsylvania in the Balance: The Reconvening. This one day workshop, attended by approximately 100 which included both original attendees of the March conference and new stakeholders, allowed further input into actions moving forward. A draft of this report was shared for comment, and participants worked in facilitated groups to identify priority initiatives and begin to develop action steps for moving these initiatives forward.

Based on ideas shared at the conference and subsequent discussions with key leaders and stakeholders in agriculture and conservation in Pennsylvania, and in particular the work of participants during the October workshop, four initiatives have been identified as top priorities for implementation and action.