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Develop and Deploy Effective Targeting

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

Conference participants were nearly universal in agreeing that targeting is essential to strategic use of limited resources and achieving maximum water quality benefit for resources spent. Effective targeting most certainly involves geography, but also all “3 Ps” – place, practices and people.

Place-based targeting should start with the best available science and mapping to identify priority watersheds. NRCS uses this approach. With respect to nutrients, NRCS utilizes data from USGS’s SPARROW model to determine and map the local yields of total nitrogen and total phosphorus from watersheds at the 12-digit hydrologic unit (HUC-12). These combined with data on watersheds where brook trout are greatly reduced and Section 319 agricultural watersheds are used to create priority watersheds annually for delivery of its program dollars.

Conference participants further noted that advancements in technology have led to the development of new tools to aid watershed managers, and the ability to identify priorities on even smaller scales. These tools should be utilized to refine and prioritize local areas within a watershed for outreach, technical assistance and implementation efforts.

For example, soil data, high resolution aerial imagery and LiDAR can be used to determine “hot spots” or critical source areas prone to nutrient losses to streams. NRCS conservation planners utilize science-based information to identify specific areas with potential for high runoff and/or leaching, and incorporate LiDAR to identify potential gullies and highly erodible lands. This type of analysis allows for “precision conservation on a watershed scale,” noted one participant. Another cautioned that this type of precision targeting only works if landowners are willing to make changes to current land management practices.

Participants also acknowledged the importance of local knowledge, which should be coupled with information developed through science and technology. County ag service centers generally house conservation districts, Extension and NRCS under one roof. Sitting down collaboratively with these local conservation professionals together with local watershed groups, farmers and private ag consultants would very quickly result in a good understanding on where to focus efforts. NRCS has utilized a local workgroup approach for decades to meet annually and identify priority areas in specific counties.

A need to focus on priority practices was also generally accepted in the work sessions, though many participants cautioned that a “one size fits all approach” does not work for ag conservation, given the unique nature and mix of the agricultural operation, the farm landscape, and the farmer. Qualified conservation planners are trained to work with individual farmers to help cut through the bewildering maze of conservation practice offerings by explaining the relevant conservation practices and their effects on the landscape and the farm operations.

While the need for this approach the continued availability of the full menu of conservation practices is acknowledged, the importance of focusing on priority practices allows producers, conservationists and policy makers alike to focus on practices that are effective in reaching water quality goals. Among practices discussed for such a short list included no-till, cover crops, stream bank fencing, forest riparian buffers, nutrient management, barnyard improvements, and manure storage.

Workgroups devoted much discussion to the people aspect of targeting. A problem with conservation efforts to date is the “first come, first serve” nature of its delivery. This has resulted in implementing practices primarily on farms of those who “come through the door,” the early adopters who willingly seek technical assistance and program dollars. “We need to target farmers who do not go to Penn State Extension, conservation districts, or NRCS,” said one participant.

The Plain Sect was a community specifically discussed for prioritized efforts. Many partners, including NRCS, conservation districts, and nonprofit organizations like Lancaster Farmland Trust, Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Stroud Water Research Center, have made successful inroads, and have programs that can be built upon. It was noted by one participant that the Amish population is growing and most want to farm, so it is a particularly important sector. Many participants noted the unique nature of that community and the need for “a different approach” to conservation efforts. The importance of working with religious leaders in local Amish communities was raised. In addition, while many Amish will not accept financial assistance for practices, they may be open to technical assistance, and programs should be customized to these understandings.

A number of other groups were also mentioned as priority groups. Small dairy, a sector which often coincides with the Plain Sect, was one such group. Many of these farms need expensive infrastructure to address very real water quality issues but may lack the resources to pursue solutions. Vegetable farmers were identified by some groups for targeting because of extensive tillage associated with crop production. Part time or hobby farmers, as well as equine, were other groups recommended for targeting. Particularly where these operators are new to farming, the need for conservation education and assistance is often high.