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Themes

Conference attendees split into separate workgroups of 14-16 participants and wrestled with these issues in facilitated work sessions. After synthesizing over 100 pages of work session and general session notes from the conference, the following themes emerged.

Agriculture has high standards for conservation, with roots in a multigenerational culture of stewardship. Farmers are ready to lead, and be a solution for clean water.

Targeting limited resources to areas of high priority is essential. Effective targeting includes elements of all “3 Ps” – place, practices, and people.

The health of the land and water is critical to meeting both farm production and conservation needs. Approaches based on performance through land and water stewardship should be emphasized over practice based approaches. Soil health, management of manure as a resource, and stewardship of riparian ecosystems need to be priority messages. Clean and abundant water starts with soil health and function. Plans required by law must be meaningful management tools that are simple to develop and follow. Programs for forest riparian buffers must be highly incentivized, streamlined and flexible.

Local and regional community based approaches work. There is a critical need to foster more community based approaches that are farmer-led.

A three pronged approach is needed to accelerate adoption of conservation practices within the agricultural community: education and outreach; technical assistance; and enforcement.

Several existing programs work well and should continue to serve as the core of conservation incentive programs. A willingness exists however to revisit existing programs to improve delivery, and explore innovative new incentive structures.

While being more strategic in spending existing resources is critical, existing funding is insufficient to achieve our water quality goals. New funding opportunities must be sought. A unified, collaboratively developed funding strategy offers the best chance for success.