Applying a New ACPF-compatible Tool and Social Science to Explore the Role of Policy in Conservation Implementation in Iowa

Aug 2020


Geospatial data and tools to explore policy approaches related to conservation practice implementation are increasingly able to provide robust decision-making information about land use and environmental outcomes in agricultural landscapes. The Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework, or ACPF, is a GIS-based tool that uses spatially explicit data to assess watersheds at the field-level and identify suitable locations for application of conservation practices to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus loss. Presently, a broad suite of in- and edge-of- field and downstream conservation practices are accounted for in the ACPF, along with recently integrated spatial economic (i.e., direct and opportunity costs) and nitrogen-reduction efficiencies associated with conservation practices into the ACPF, significantly enhancing its capacity to be used in assessing conservation scenarios and decision-making. The ACPF is being assessed for integration into the USDA NRCS conservation planning protocols and may be utilized to prioritize financial and technical support programming. The utility of geo-spatial planning tools, like the ACPF, in the context of policy implementation must be demonstrated so that conservation planning partners are fully apprised of next generation data and resources to meet conservation and environmental outcomes in the nearer future.


This project will demonstrate the use and utility of the ACPF relative to different policy approaches designed to enhance conservation practice implementation in Iowa to meet Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals. States in the Corn Belt, including Iowa, are increasingly exploring alternatives to current policy. This proposal provides timely approaches and information that can inform and empower stakeholders and decision-makers in landscape and watershed planning.


This objective will be carried out by: 

  1. Refining the ACPF-compatible toolbox to include spatial economic and nutrient reduction efficiencies for nitrogen and phosphorus for all practices in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.
  2. Applying different policy approaches to develop conservation implementation scenarios on agricultural landscapes across different major landform resource areas in Iowa. 
  3. Evaluating implementation opportunities and biophysical and economic outcomes (i.e., nutrient reduction efficiencies and costs/benefits) associated with different policy approaches. 
  4. Exploring stakeholder and decision-maker perceptions of public policy approaches and associated outcomes.
Award Number: 

Project Updates

Note: Project reports published on the INRC website are often revised from researchers' original reports to increase consistency.

March 2024

Project on hold

December 2020

Since receiving funding notification in July, the research team has been working largely on grant objectives 1 and 2.

Objective 1 focuses on updating the ACPF to include a P component (similar to N) to quantify potential reductions and costs/benefits. Work has started with folks in the DEP to begin to identify a methodology to integrate P into the ACPF.

Objective 2 focuses on selecting 20 HUC-12 watersheds to serve as case studies for various policy approaches. The watersheds of interest have been chosen and researchers are in the process of identifying if the ACPF has been run in those locations and/or needs to be run.

PIs met to talk about hiring a research assistant and also worked on the IRB, which will be required for Objective 4.