The goal of my research and extension scholarship is to generate and disseminate research-based information that helps stakeholders to maintain or enhance long-term agricultural productivity while also improving social and environmental outcomes of agriculture. Through applied social science research and information dissemination, I help to inform sound conservation and agronomic programming and policy decision making and planning. Much of my current activity consists of work on interdisciplinary and integrated (research, extension, education) grant-funded projects. These projects generate information that assists stakeholders to develop more resilient agricultural systems that minimize environmental impacts and increase ecosystem services.
Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll
I am Director of the Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll (IFRLP), an annual panel survey of Iowa farmers. The IFRLP project is a year-round effort to help stakeholders who work with farmers to develop and answer research questions and generate information that improves the effectiveness of their programs and policies. I work closely with ISU faculty from diverse departments (e.g., Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, Agronomy, Entomology, Natural Resource Ecology and Management) and with major stakeholders (e.g., Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa Department of Natural Resources) to help them identify and articulate research questions focused on the major challenges and issues that they face.
The STRIPS Project
Since 2008, I have been a collaborator on the Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairies (STRIPS) project. This is a long-term research and extension collaboration among an interdisciplinary team of researchers, educators, and extension specialists who are studying the impacts of strips of prairie strategically integrated within row-cropped agricultural landscapes. The overall goal of the project is to promote targeted integration of native, perennial vegetation into agricultural landscapes to maintain agricultural productivity (e.g., through soil erosion control, increasing beneficial insect populations) while enhancing ecosystem services (e.g., by improving water quality and wildlife habitat). I have published a number of technical reports that help to inform STRIPS project activities.
C-CHANGE is the Consortium for Cultivating Human And Naturally reGenerative Enterprises. This project works across institutions and with farmers, communities, businesses, and other organizations to create practical, science-based, regenerative agricultural systems. Regenerative agricultural systems are rooted in agroecological and social foundations, and integrate crop, livestock, and energy production. These systems generate diverse products and services that return more value to people and the land. In addition to producing the traditional agricultural outputs of food, feed, fiber, and feedstocks, regenerative agricultural systems build soil, enhance climate resilience, store carbon, clean water, increase wildlife habitat, and provide sustainable ways of life. Projects I'm working on under the C-CHANGE umbrella include:
Grass2Gas: This 5-year (2020-25), $10M project funded by USDA-NIFA is examining the feasibility of developing systems that produce sustainable biogas and co-products through anaerobic digestion of herbaceous biomass combined with manure.
The Sustainability in the Curriculum project assessed ISU student perspectives on how well the curriculum and related activities are addressing the various social, economic, and ecological dimensions of sustainability. This focus group and survey research effort is led by a multidisciplinary team of undergraduate and graduate students, a post-doctoral researcher, and faculty.
Much of my research and extension work focuses on agriculture's role in climate change adaptation and mitigation. The Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll survey, in particular, has been an important resource for informing outreach to help make agricultural systems more resilient while reducing GHG production. I serve on the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) Climate Priority Action Team and am a member of the National Extension Climate Initiative. From 2011 to 2017, I was lead social scientist for the Climate Change, Mitigation, and Adaptation in Corn-Based Cropping Systems Project (CSCAP). The CSCAP project was a $20 million interdisciplinary integrated research-education-extension partnership between 50 PIs from 10 major public universities and USDA ARS-Columbus, Ohio. A current climate change-focused project is a USDA NIFA AFRI grant called Understanding and Building Capacity to Address Changing Water Availability in the Upper Corn Belt. This project is a partnership with PI Mae Davenport at University of Minnesota. The three-year project’s goal is to better understand how planners, policymakers, and agricultural producers anticipate, respond, and adapt to changing water availability for agriculture in Iowa and Minnesota.
I'm co-PI on the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy Farmer Survey project, a five-year (2015-2019) farmer survey that has focused on: (1) measuring farmer knowledge, attitudes, and behavior related to nutrient management and nutrient loss into waterways, (2) identifying barriers to and facilitators of behavior change that reduces nutrient loss, and (3) measuring changes in these over time. The survey effort is finished, but data analysis and reporting is ongoing. We have published several technical reports and journal articles from the survey.