Evaluating the Value and Efficacy of Agricultural Conservation Programs for Landowners and Conservation Practitioners

In Nebraska, Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) enrollment peaked in 2007 at 1.3 million acres and by 2012 had declined by roughly 30% to 900,000 acres. At the current rate of loss, CRP could disappear from the Nebraska landscape by 2025. Although the complete loss of CRP is unlikely, dramatic reductions in the availability of CRP and changes in the distribution and land types covered in CRP are likely to have corresponding implications for the soil, water, and wildlife resources of Nebraska. While much of the decline in CRP enrollment is attributed to higher commodity prices—as corn acres over the same time period increased from 9.4 million to 9.9 million acres—the complexity of the CRP program and the associated changes in farm demographics and agricultural practices brings into question whether factors beyond economics may drive conservation attitudes in Nebraska's farmers.

Moreover, while conservation efforts have largely focused on reducing impacts through habitat restoration, it is becoming increasingly apparent that protectionist efforts are insufficient to ensure long-term socio-ecological resilience. Conservation approaches which are inclusive of human demands on ecosystem services and consider the potential for human dominated landscapes to provide for and maintain biodiversity while simultaneously providing for the food and fiber needs of society may provide an opportunity to strike a balance between socio-economic needs and socio-ecological impacts. However, this shift in paradigm necessitates innovative approaches that move beyond traditional conservation strategies. In either case, whether we are attempting to ensure the future of CRP or develop novel agricultural conservation programs, it is imperative that we understand the perceptions and values of the stakeholders involved.

Goals

This project will work with conservation practitioners and landowners throughout the state of Nebraska to evaluate the perceptions and values of landowners, specifically:
1. What are the perceptions and perceived values of the CRP program?
2. What are the perceptions and perceived values of the alternative CRP practices and the associated management requirements and approaches?
3. What are the limitations to participation in CRP by landowners?
4. What are the limitations in the ability of conservation practitioners and natural resource agencies to promote CRP?
5. What are alternative conservation strategies to CRP and the perceptions and perceived values surrounding the implementation of these alternatives?
Principal Investigator(s)
-Joseph (TJ) Fontaine, NE CFWRU
Graduate Student(s)
-Dustin Martin (2014)
Project Coordinator(s)
Caitlyn Gillespie
Project Duration
July 2013- June 2015
Funding
-Nebraska Environmental Trust
-Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
Project Location
Nebraska