On Tuesday, June 10, WRI's Water Initiative hosted a launch event for two new WRI publications:

From left to right: Bruce Knight, Michelle Perez, John Stierna, Sara Walker, Andrew Maddocks (event coordinator), and Craig Hanson (event moderator & director of WRI’s Food, Forests, & Water Program).

Presentation Slides

Webinar Recordings

Two webinar recordings are available: one from the June 10 launch event and a second one from the June 26 webinar-only event. The sound quality is low on the first recording and good on the second one. Presentations are largely similar in both events while comments by Bruce Knight and the Q&A discussions are different.

Note: We apologize that the volume levels are low and intermittent at times. Please use headphones and raise the volume as high as possible.

2014-06-26 12.03 Panel Discussion and Report Dissemination Improving Water Quality through Better Targeting of Conservation Fun from World Resources Institute on Vimeo.
Note: Sound quality in the second recording are good though comments by Bruce Knight are different from the first recording as are the Q&A comments.

The event also included lunch and a high-level panel discussion on opportunities to improve the environmental and cost effectiveness of farm conservation programs through better targeting. Panel members include:

  • Bruce Knight, Strategic Conservation Solutions, LLC and former chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) from 2002 to 2006

  • John Stierna, American Farmland Trust and former senior economist with NRCS from 1995 to 2004

Michelle Perez, senior associate on WRI’s Water Initiative, shared findings and recommendations from WRI’s national modeling report. We used results from an economic optimization analysis from the NRCS Conservation Effects Assessment Program (CEAP) to assess the current and potential cost effectiveness of farm conservation programs. We analyzed scenarios for reducing nitrogen, phosphorus, and soil erosion on U.S. cropland. We found that combining geographic targeting with cost-benefit principles could significantly increase cost effectiveness over the current conservation spending approach.

Sara Walker, associate on WRI’s Water Initiative, shared highlights of the barriers brief. While there is real opportunity for increased cost effectiveness from better targeting, a series of issues are limiting its potential. WRI identified three categories of barriers to better targeting of conservation funds: scientific and technical, social and political, and institutional and implementation. We explored various options for overcoming these barriers, some of which could help realize the cost effectiveness gains estimated in the national modeling analysis.


Michelle Perez is a senior associate for WRI's Water Initiative. She leads the farm conservation targeting projects, the Mississippi River basin nutrient trading project, and helps develop farm- and watershed-scale nutrient reduction assessment tools. Perez also collaborates with leading environmental, conservation, and farm trade association groups, university specialists, and federal, state, and regional agency representatives to improve the environmental effectiveness and cost effectiveness of water quality-related programs. Perez holds a doctorate in environmental policy from the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy. She is a past president of the Soil and Water Conservation Society’s National Capital Chapter.
Sara Walker is an associate for WRI’s Water Initiative. She works on nutrient trading, developing tools for quantifying nutrient loads and credits, and analyzing market effectiveness. She also works on targeting projects which focus on increasing the environmental and cost effectiveness of agricultural conservation programs. Sara holds a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Psychology from Dickinson College and an M.S. in Environmental Sciences and Policy from The Johns Hopkins University.
Bruce Knight is a former chief of the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service. Knight, a nationally recognized expert on conservation, agriculture and the environment, is the principal and founder of Strategic Conservation Solutions, LLC. From 2002 to 2006, Knight served as Chief of Natural Resources Conservation Service, the lead U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) agency for conservation on private working agricultural lands. Knight was the Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs at the USDA from 2006-2009. A third-generation rancher and farmer and lifelong conservationist, Knight operates a diversified grain and cattle operation in South Dakota using no-till and rest rotation grazing systems. Knight is a graduate of South Dakota State University.
John Stierna is a former senior economist with the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service. Stierna has over 48 years of experience in natural resources and agriculture as an economist and policy analyst in both the public and private sectors. He has earned BS and MS degrees in agricultural economics from Michigan State University and has provided significant leadership for economic analysis, policy formulation and legislative analysis during a career with NRCS in Washington, DC. He now provides consulting services in natural resource policy and has been working with American Farmland Trust on conservation policy for the 2008 and 2014 farm bills.


This report is the second in a three-part series on targeting. View our first publication, Improving Water Quality: A Review of the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI) to Target U.S. Farm Conservation Funds.