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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 #363709

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

Location: Agroecosystems Management Research

Title: Farmer engagement using a precision approach to watershed-scale conservation planning: What do we know?

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 Soil and Water Conservation
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/27/2020
Publication Date: 7/6/2020
Citation: Ranjan, P., Singh, A.S., Tomer, M.D., Lewandowski, A.M., Prokopy, L.S. 2020. Farmer engagement using a precision approach to watershed-scale conservation planning: What do we know? Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. 75:444-452. https://doi.org/10.2489/jswc.2020.00072.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.2489/jswc.2020.00072

Interpretive Summary: Farmer engagement is critical to successful conservation planning. There is an increased emphasis on precision placement of conservation practices in planning; the Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework (ACPF) is a decision support tool (DST) that may assist farmer engagement in precision conservation because it provides a menu-driven approach to planning. This study aimed to assess farmer’s perceptions of precision conservation after they received ACPF conservation planning options for fields they farm. Based on interviews with 15 farmers across four watersheds in the Midwest, farmers were receptive towards conservation options specifically for their farms. This receptiveness was linked to the menu-driven approach that provided farmers with autonomy in the planning process. Farmers perceived that the planning suggestions validated their natural resource concerns, and were presented in a way that encouraged "watershed thinking" to better understand where water goes from the edge of their fields. Precision conservation can motivate new conservation under this context. Farmers also made recommendations to conservation planners to improve the process by considering the scale of the map and the amount of information presented, and having "boots on the ground"to engage farmers one-on-one to motivate conservation. This research is of interest to state and federal agencies and environmental organizations who are involved with watershed improvement efforts, in which successful farmer engagement is key to success.

Technical Abstract: Farmer engagement is an integral component of conservation planning, with increased emphasis on precision placement of conservation practices. To that end, conservation planners are turning to the Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework (ACPF) – a decision support tool (DST) that provides a menu-driven approach to conservation planning. Scholarship on human dimensions of precision conservation, also known as conservation targeting, has either examined farmers’ general attitudes towards targeting, or when farmers are active participants in generating targeted practice options. However, less is known about farmer’s perceptions of targeting when they received targeted conservation options for fields they farm. With the goal of filling this knowledge gap, we present findings from semi-structured in-depth interviews conducted with 15 farmers in four watersheds in the US Midwest. Results suggest that farmers were receptive towards conservation options for their farm. Several factors influenced farmers’ receptiveness towards site-specific conservation targeting, such as farmers having autonomy in the targeting process, and perceiving that the process had benefits, such as field-scale validation of their natural resource concerns and its potential to encourage watershed thinking. Results also highlight the potential of conservation targeting in motivating conservation behavior. Recommendations for future conservation targeting include being mindful of the scale of the map and the amount of information presented, having boots on the ground, and engaging farmers one-on-one to motivate conservation behavior.