Researchers gauging farmer attitudes about targeted conservation

by Research and Economic Development

Nebraska cornfield
Craig Chandler | University Communication
August 23, 2022

Lincoln, Neb. —A University of Nebraska–Lincoln project to gauge farmers’ attitudes about targeted conservation received a $42,448 grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust.

Agricultural production in Nebraska has trended toward increased field sizes, removal of non-crop habitat and a reduction in crop diversity, with the goal of increasing yield and associated farm revenue. Despite increased farm productivity, rural and urban residents are increasingly affected by multiple emerging challenges including environmental concerns and economic uncertainties, said Andrew Little, assistant professor of natural resources and project lead.

Andrew Little
Little

“New precision technologies and conservation planning frameworks offer potential solutions to optimize agricultural production and natural resource conservation by strategically targeting low-yielding acres for conservation program enrollment while farming highly profitable acres,” Little said. This approach helps farmers and farmland owners increase whole-field profitability while reducing environmental impacts.

To understand Nebraska farmers and farmland owners’ willingness to participate in such targeting schemes, researchers identified the key factors that facilitate or constrain their participation through socioeconomic and behavioral surveys and focus groups. They also conducted phone interviews with farmland owners (or absentee landowners), which is a critical demographic in Nebraska that may affect adoption of conservation programs.

One student on the project, Morgan Register, used the project’s platform to discuss conservation specialists’ perspectives and communication in adopting precision agriculture practices. Through surveying conservation specialists, Register is gaining an understanding of how professionals can collaborate to better use these emerging technologies. Results and findings from this research will be shared soon.

Corrin Winter, another student on the project, has been working to understand farmers’ and landowners’ constraints in adopting precision technology. Results from this portion of the project can help inform ways to make adoption easier for farmers and landowners.

The project surveyed 7,500 farmers and landowners across Nebraska. The survey concluded in April and is in the process of being analyzed, with final results to come.

“With this information, Nebraska conservation agencies and/or organizations can develop a coordinated effort to work with farmers and farmland owners to reduce environmental impacts while increasing whole-field profitability,” Little said.

This is the third year the project has received funding from NET.

The Nebraska Legislature created the NET in 1992. Using revenue from the Nebraska Lottery, the trust has provided more than $349 million in grants to more than 2,400 projects across the state. Anyone — citizens, organizations, communities, farmers and businesses — can apply for funding to protect habitat, improve water quality and establish recycling programs in Nebraska. The NET works to preserve, protect and restore the state’s natural resources for future generations.