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Issues

Six key issues were identified at Pennsylvania in the Balance as critical to solving our collective agriculture and water quality problems. A panel of producers was convened at the conference to share the importance of the producer perspective, while the other five issues provided the framework for conference work sessions.

The Importance of the Producer Perspective

To reach water quality goals, it is paramount that the producer plays an active role in developing and implementing strategies for improvement. This is particularly so when the companion goal is sustaining and promoting a thriving, vibrant agricultural industry in Pennsylvania.

As the conference producer panel made evident, many farmers are conservation leaders and they operate a wide diversity of farms--from Amish small dairies to poultry and hog confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to certified organic vegetable farms to 1,000 cow dairies cropping several thousand acres. But with this diversity, there are commonalities in their approach to conservation. Farmers who have embraced conservation see its benefits for land and water health and farm productivity and profitability. One farmer said that conservation is "more than compatible with our farm."

Producers pointed out that good agricultural practices benefit water quality by keeping vegetation on fields, increasing water infiltration, building soil health and keeping it on the farm. One panelist noted, "I saw old aerials of the farm during my grandfather's day, when the erosion was everywhere and we were losing topsoil. I never want to go back to that."

The producers attending the conference are leaders in conservation. They observed that many other farmers in Pennsylvania must be brought on board. Producers who are implementing conservation want to see that happen. As Secretary Redding noted, ultimately, through the leadership of Pennsylvania's agricultural community, the narrative will need to change from I have to do it to I want to do it. A common question asked at the conference was: how can the strong leadership and stewardship ethic of these producers be harnessed to achieve the shift in this narrative Commonwealth-wide?

Who, What and Where: Strategies for Targeting Resources

Given finite resources to meet Pennsylvania's agricultural goals for improving local and Bay water quality, it is important to ask: to whom, what and where should our resources be targeted? In recent years, there has been an increasing understanding of the importance of targeting, with development and utilization of priority watersheds for federal and state funding programs.

But how should this be done to achieve the greatest nutrient reductions? How should this be done to achieve both local water quality and Bay water quality goals?

One aspect of targeting focuses on the where. Where on the landscape should efforts be focused? Are there specific geographic areas or land uses that should be prioritized?

Other questions relate to the what and the who. What practices should resources be focused on delivering? Who from the agricultural community should we focus our efforts towards?

Effective targeting involves a well thought out strategy and analysis of best available information. How can an effective, targeted focus for funding and implementation be developed? What is the role of science and technology in targeting efforts? Does an adequate understanding of current baseline conservation exist to know where to focus next? How can we consider the producer perspective and landowner decisions when developing effective targeting strategies?

Achieving Regulatory Compliance

The stark reality is that too many Pennsylvania farmers are not in compliance with existing state laws and regulations regarding agriculture and the environment. Yet achieving baseline compliance is a cornerstone of Pennsylvania's WIP.

Many questions must be explored in order to achieve regulatory compliance for agriculture. What barriers exist for noncompliant farmers to be in compliance? What is needed to bring all farmers into compliance? What is the role of respective agencies and other stakeholders, including EPA, DEP, conservation districts, the agriculture industry, conservation organizations? What is the proper role of compliance related tools, such as farm inspections or enforcement actions?

Ensuring Adequate Technical Assistance Capacity

Farmers rely on conservation professionals to provide technical assistance (TA) to develop conservation and nutrient management plans and to design and implement conservation practices. Yet the work load is great and a "TA bottleneck" exists in Pennsylvania.

How can this bottleneck be overcome so all farmers needing technical assistance to develop plans and implement practices can get that assistance in a timely manner? To answer this question, strategies that work well, and where challenges exist, need to be identified. What are the respective roles of NRCS, conservation districts, private sector, and nonprofits in delivering TA? How do we build additional capacity to achieve planning and implementation technical assistance needs?

What are the best strategies for technical assistance providers to work collaboratively to increase capacity? What can be done to increase the amount of trained and qualified conservation professionals in the Commonwealth to meet demand? And finally, what are the roles for technology and self-help tools to meet planning objectives?

The Need for Innovation in Incentives for Implementation

Many programs exist to incentivize conservation on the ground. The myriad of programs can, in fact, be overwhelming and a barrier to adoption. Moreover, even with strong financial incentives, some high priority practices, such as forest riparian buffers, are not currently being adopted at the rates needed to meet our water quality goals for agriculture. Strategies must be identified to create an incentives structure that maximizes the acceleration of adoption given finite resources.

Some existing programs work well to incentivize conservation. What are the most successful and why? And for those which are less successful, what opportunities exist to improve existing programs to better achieve implementation goals?

Some mix of policy, programmatic, financial incentives and community based efforts are likely needed to accelerate adoption. What are the ingredients in this mix? Are there new or different programs to help incentivize conservation in Pennsylvania? What is the role of compliance enforcement as an incentive? What opportunities exist for cost effectively addressing agriculture and stormwater runoff in mixed land use settings?

Technology can play a key role in addressing water quality in agriculture. What opportunities exist for technology to achieve nutrient reduction, address manure imbalances, and increase efficiencies in achieving conservation goals? Where are opportunities for institutional change to drive adoption of new technologies, use of markets, or other systemic changes?

The Need for Additional Resources for Water Quality Improvement

A key limiting factor exists in our Chesapeake restoration efforts in Pennsylvania--money. To be frank, existing funding amounts are inadequate to meet local water quality and Chesapeake Bay goals. New sources of funding must be sought and a new water quality funding strategy developed.

To begin developing that strategy, current funding programs that are working well need to be identified. So do ones that can be improved upon, with suggestions on how to do so. But beyond existing programs, what new or innovative funding sources might be pursued? What are the roles and expectations for additional federal, state, and local funding opportunities moving forward?

As a new funding strategy is developed, how can existing funding sources be leveraged to find new funding? What opportunities exist for public/private partnerships?