Increasing Farmer Engagement with Conservation Practices Through More Effective Communication Strategies
There is a vast amount of knowledge about the effectiveness of conservation practices but getting farmers to implement these practices remains a significant challenge. Organizations like the Iowa Learning Farms have taken steps to engage farmers but more work is needed to amplify efforts, including to appeal to women or younger farmers or landowners, and to call attention to a greater diversity of conservation practices.
The long-term objective of the project is to enhance farmer and landowner engagement in conservation practices. This project aims to identify more effective message strategies for engaging farmer and landowner audiences – especially women and younger farmers -- in conservation practices aimed at reducing surface water nutrient loss.
To grow engagement, project partners will first evaluate existing conservation messages that appear in agricultural news media and messages produced by key farmer organizations and identify barriers to implementing conservation practices. The messages will be evaluated and messages used by farmers in interviews will also be analyzed. Next, Iowa farmers and landowners will be surveyed to better understand their perspectives on conservation practices and communication preferences. Lastly, project partners will use what they’ve learned to create new messages to encourage conservation adoption, which will be disseminated on multiple social media platforms.
Note: Project reports published on the INRC website are often revised from researchers' original reports to increase consistency.
1. News outlet message evaluation: Researchers found that news outlets in Iowa that cater to farmers differed in coverage of the INRS compared to news outlets that cater to a general audience. Agricultural news outlets more often led with agricultural themes and more often used agricultural representatives as sources. Non-agricultural news outlets more often quoted representatives of environmental groups. News articles infrequently led with science or health themes. The volume of coverage over time in three of the four news outlets examined followed similar patterns. Differences among the outlets may lead to differences in stakeholders’ knowledge or views about the INRS and conservation, posing challenges to consensus-building.
2. To identify gaps in research related to communicating with farmers about conservation, the research team conducted a systematic review of articles about conservation that included a survey of farmers and featured information or communication items in the survey. The review showed that farmers tend to seek or receive information about conservation from multiple sources, and they show preferences for specific information channels and sources. Media may play an important role, but few studies examined media usage.
3. Farmer perceptions: Survey responses of farmers who came to ILF F2F events were compared with those who attended virtual events and who attended both types of events. The groups differed based on key variables such as water quality concerns, communication behaviors, outreach preferences and demographics. This work suggests that a broad and dynamic communication strategy, including both in-person and virtual events, offers greater opportunities for dissemination of ideas and increases access to content.
4. Message test: Researchers found that Facebook ads hold promise for conservation outreach as they were able to reach thousands of potential participants with messages about conservation in a cost-effective manner. When messages were compared by theme, social media messages about conservation that used a business theme performed better on some key Facebook metrics, namely cost-per-click and reach, while messages focused on stewardship and science performed better in other ways, such as engagement per reach among women.
Two presentations about the project were given during the study period. Project collaborators hope to continue working together. The team has contributed to a national-level grant proposal led by another collaborator.