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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Ames, Iowa » National Laboratory for Agriculture and The Environment » Agroecosystems Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #355150

Research Project: Agroecosystem Benefits from the Development and Application of New Management Technologies in Agricultural Watersheds

Location: Agroecosystems Management Research

Title: Using a decision-support tool for precision placement of conservation practices: Lessons learned from six watersheds in the US Midwest

Author
item Ranjan, Pranay - PURDUE UNIVERSITY
item Singh, Ajay - CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY
item Tomer, Mark
item Lewandowski, Ann - UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA
item Prokopy, Linda - PURDUE UNIVERSITY

Submitted to: Journal of Environmental Management
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/17/2018
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: N/A

Interpretive Summary: Conservation of agricultural landscapes has been conducted by public agencies for more than 80 years, but consistency in the precise placement of conservation practices for enhanced environmental benefits remains elusive. Decision support tools (DSTs) such as the Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework (ACPF), may help facilitate precision conservation, but little is known about the ways that conservation planners can successfully engage with producers using technologies that suggest new, precisely placed practices. To provide lessons that could enable wider use of new technologies to improve conservation outcomes, interviews were conducted with 21 conservation professionals in six Midwestern watersheds where ACPF results were available. Conservation professionals employed differing approaches among these six watersheds. The scale of producer engagement (i.e., single farm vs community based) was widely varied, as approaches were often individualized to create ‘enabling conditions’ for producers to consider implementing new conservation practices. Precision conservation technologies carry a potential to streamline and expedite the conservation planning process, but flexibility that encourages a localized and adaptive approach to conservation remains important. This study is of interest to conservationists and producers concerned with ensuring effectiveness of new approaches to conservation enabled by new technologies.

Technical Abstract: While conservation of natural resources on agricultural landscapes has been a priority for public agencies for more than 80 years, the ability of conservation planners to place conservation practices for enhanced environmental benefits remains elusive. To increase both adoption of conservation practices and efficient use of conservation funding, conservation planners are turning to decision support tools (DSTs), such as the Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework (ACPF). However, less is known about how DSTs facilitate a whole-landscape approach to conservation planning, and the strategies that are employed by conservation planners to engage with producers using new GIS-enabled planning technologies. With the goal of contributing to both the policy and practice of precision conservation, we present findings from semi-structured in-depth interviews conducted with 21 conservation professionals in six watersheds in the US Midwest. Results highlight the importance of conservation professionals employing a suite of strategies, such as being mindful of the scale of producer engagement (i.e., single farm vs community based) and accounting for producers’ personalities, to create ‘enabling conditions’ for producer engagement when adopting a precision approach to conservation. Policy recommendations for precision conservation technologies include the need to streamline and expedite the process of conservation delivery, and that DSTs are a means to an end, but not a universal remedy, because conservation planning is most effective when localized interactions of rural landscapes and social dynamics are considered in an adaptive approach.