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Farmer Perspectives on Ecosystem Service Management, Land-Use Targeting, and the Future of Cornbelt Agriculture

This project is investigating farmer’s perspective on targeted conservation.  Targeted conservation refers to the use of science-based techniques such as remote sensing and analysis of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to locate places on the land that are most vulnerable to soil erosion and water quality impairments. Because targeting focuses efforts on areas that are most in need of conservation, this approach is seen as a way to improve the environmental benefits of agricultural landscapes without taking large amounts of land out of production.

This project focuses on two Iowa watersheds (HUC_12): Squaw Creek of the South Skunk River in Jasper County, and Headwaters of Big Creek Lake in Boone and Polk Counties.  For each watershed we will first use GIS to identify “areas of conservation concern” related to water quality—namely nitrate and phosphorus loss and soil erosion.  We will then contact landowners and operators in these areas, with the goal of conducting 15-20 interviews for each watershed.  Interviews will be two-part. First, in a “pre-interview”, we will collect data needed to model agronomic and environmental inputs/outputs of select farm fields using I-FARM.  We will then use alternative management scenarios (i.e. targeted conservation plans) as a basis for semi-structured in-depth interviews about farm management decision making.

As this project focuses directly on the fine-scale details of current management we expect interview responses will be specific, direct, and realistic.  We hope to gain insight on the opportunity costs, risks, transaction costs, and interaction effects of implementing targeted conservation on Iowa farms.  Moreover, we will test farmers’ willingness to accept future ecosystem service management schemes (such as incentives or environmental markets).

The results of this project will either challenge or “pave the way” for effectual multi-scale ecosystem service management and enhanced commodity production.

Principle Investigator(s): John TyndallTricia KnootMatt HelmersDrake LarsenJ. Arbuckle