The critical services that farmers and farms provide to society—food, fiber, and fuel—also have unintended environmental consequences: water pollution, wildlife habitat destruction, and climate-changing gases.

In the U.S., and globally, most policy solutions employ a voluntary programs approach by providing financial incentives and technical assistance to agricultural producers to adopt conservation practices. These federal conservation programs do solve environmental problems on farms. However, after three decades of such approaches, only a few landscape-scale environmental outcomes have been documented. Moreover, funds for conservation are limited, and these programs have not maximized the cost effectiveness of their efforts.

Our work on targeting refers to focusing cost-effective U.S. conservation practices within priority areas (watersheds or regions) and maximizing environmental benefits per dollar spent. This approach builds on the success of the voluntary program but fosters collective and concentrated action by farmers and technical service providers to achieve major environmental outcomes like removing water bodies from Impaired Waters Lists and repopulating threatened or endangered wildlife.