Imagine being on the TV reality show Shark Tank. You are there asking for $5,000,000 of venture capital. Immediately after you make the request, Mark Cuban asks, “How are you going to spend the money?”
You respond, “I really don’t know. I will probably keep doing what I have been doing, but only work harder; do more of the same.” It is at that point Mark Cuban’s head explodes and in unison with every other Shark Tank investor, he says “I’m out!” And who could blame them. I don’t know anyone that would invest their money into a business that has no strategic plan.
However, time and again, I hear of a grandiose idea for substantially increasing conservation investments through public funds (taxes). What I find most disturbing is that few, if any, of these ideas ever have a grandiose plan for maximizing returns from this public investment. They just ask for more money to do more of the same.
Tom’s Tips for Maximizing the Returns from Conservation Investments
- Target BMPs to priority subwatersheds and impairments. Even with a windfall of cash there will never be enough money to go around. Targeting financial resources will always, always be a crucial step. Generally, resource professionals love working with the best conservation farmers. It is safe and rewarding. However, resource professionals need to break out of their comfort zone and offer assistance to those farmers who need the most help. What would we think if hospitals admitted only healthy people or social workers refused to work with dysfunctional families because it was more rewarding to work with people that “have it all together”?
- Promote a stacked approach to conservation practices. Farmers need to implement a suite of practices on their farm. No single practice will solve the problem. Regardless of the resource issue, multiple practices must be applied in every field to solve the problem.
- Develop a comprehensive outreach and education campaign for farm operators and landowners. An uninformed audience will not engage. Farmers and landowners must clearly understand the resource issues and the functionality of conservation practices before we can expect them to act. It is very hard to get a farmer to invest in a solution before they understand the problem.
- Involve the private sector. Government agencies do not have adequate resources to sufficiently help farmers. Farmers rely on ag retailers as their trusted advisors and look to them for advice in decision making. Ag retailers must be trained and incentivized to help farmers with conservation planning and implementation.
- Reduce the cost of conservation. Before we can accelerate conservation implementation, we must reduce the cost of delivering and applying conservation. Current methods are too resource intensive, both in time and training. We must increase our use of current technology, namely LiDAR and GIS, and use new technology like machine control and precision conservation. We simply cannot continue to support the ineffective placement of conservation practices nor the current labor intensive planning method.
What if Shark Tank was the lone gateway to obtaining conservation investment? Can you imagine any of our current plans for conservation funding getting a nod from Mark Cuban or any other investor? Let’s figure out a strategy before we go looking for a substantial increase in conservation investments. And that strategy better include targeting, a private sector delivery system, technology, and a good outreach and education plan.