Identifying the barriers and strategies to accelerate adoption of critical edge-of-field conservation practices: A farmer-centric integrated research & extension approach

Aug 2021


We have extensive knowledge regarding the incentives and barriers for working-land conservation practices. However, in contrast, we have much less understanding regarding what induces or inhibits landowners’ and farmers’ adoption of edge-of-field practices.


The purpose of this project is to provide the first comprehensive assessment of Iowa landowners’ and farmers’ views on and barriers to adopting key edge-of-field practices to further accelerate progress toward Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy nutrient reduction goals.


The novelty of this project lies in its design and timeliness. Researchers will conduct a survey of 3,000 landowners and farmers in five HUC-8 watersheds in the Des Moines Lobe region with varying levels of nutrient reduction adoption and conduct three listening sessions with approximately 45 participants (15 in each session). In addition, they are adding an edge-of-field practices section to the Iowa Farmland Ownership and Tenure survey, mandated every five years by the Iowa Code, set to be conducted in 2022. The research will also provide insights from split sample design and information treatments on the most effective outreach and education strategy for promoting three key edge-of-field practices — wetlands, saturated buffers and bioreactors. Another key aspect of this research will be identifying the necessary payments for farmers and landowners to adopt wetland adoption and their general behaviors and attitudes toward edge-of-field practices.

Project Updates

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

January 2024

The second survey, accompanied by three different fact sheets, was mailed the first week of July 2023. A letter was sent as follow up on 9/7/2023. We have 358 surveys returned and the survey was closed on 10/9/2023. We got all the data processed and are now working on an analysis for both rounds of the survey. The first draft of a report is completed. The team met to discuss this draft and a second report is currently being drafted. It is our plan to have the report completed and to graphic designers for publication by the middle of February. We are also working on both a journal article and extension publication.

Related activities and accomplishments

2 Presentations

We submitted a proposal to USDA NIFA to expand the research we started with INRC funds. If funded, we will be partnering with institutions in New York and Alabama. We plan to look closer at the message and messenger work as well as look closer at EOF practices.

August 2023

As part of a 2021 project funded by Iowa Nutrient Research Center, State Soil Conservation and Water Quality Committee and Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture (LCSA), Drs. Jacqueline Comito and Wendong Zhang conducted a survey with ~400 northern Iowa farmers responding with information about their attitudes towards three edge-of-field practices: water quality-enhancing wetlands, saturated buffers, and bioreactors. The researchers found additional important, yet surprising, findings concerning the messenger and message that need to be explored more fully. Financial incentives alone are not enough to get individuals to consider implementing EOF practices. What messages or messengers will help inspire them to even consider making these important land management decisions? The power of narrative transport to persuade individuals to adopt something new such as installing EOF practices needs to be more fully explored. Key findings on the messenger and message include: • Farmers are more responsive when the messages include not only water quality benefits but also wildlife benefits of the EOF practices. • Even for EOF practices that require more knowledge and expertise, the message from an early farmer adopter was significantly more effective than that of an Extension professional. • An infographic-style factsheet, as used by Iowa Learning Farms, was more convincing to farmers than video narratives by a farmer or an Extension professional. • Many farmers/landowners seemed to confuse any buffer for saturated buffers and any wetland/pond for water quality-enhancing wetlands. Based on these findings, we have revised the initial survey to hopefully improve our understanding of responses. This survey will be sent out to an additional 1,500 Iowa farmer/landowners in the same area. We will be testing the factsheets farther and also testing the messenger on the factsheet. This survey is a mailed survey in contrast to original one which was on-line. The primary mailing for the survey was at the end of June. We are also currently working on technical report from on-line survey, summary of report, conference presentations and journal article.

Proposals submited:

Dr. Zhang and Comito submitted a second INRC proposal for the 2023 call for proposals. The purpose of this proposal is to look closer at the more surprising findings from this project to discover more about the messenger and message and how that impacts farmer/landowners willingness to adopt edge of field practices -$120,270

December 2022

Survey development was completed and researchers began administering the survey on-line. Currently, 548 surveys are completed and 43 are partially completed (more than 50% complete for a total of 591 surveys). The goal is to have 600 or more surveys, so a reminder letter is being sent out to 3,500 recipients to encourage them to fill in the survey. The team estimates the results will easily exceed the goal. Data analysis will begin on Jan. 10, 2023.

June 2022

The survey was developed over the last six months. The IRP application has been approved. Researchers met with CSSM and worked through survey details and fine-tuned the language and the intervention examples. Survey order and language is set and the survey is being programmed as a Qualtric on-line survey which will be administered starting in July. The videos and infographics are also being put on-line so that they are a part of the survey.

January 2022

Co-PI Zhang has hired a PhD student to work on this project— the student researched the proposed counties and geographic reach for this survey and the parameters have been established. The project team is collaborating with ISU’s Center for Survey Statistics and Methodology on this component of the project. Mallory Allen at CSSM has created the sample using Dynata based on the criteria established by the research team.

Scripts for four information treatment videos were developed and reviewed by both content experts and a professional editor. The information treatment videos were filmed in early December 2021, with Matt Helmers as the extension professional and Wade Dooley as the farmer. Complete drafts of all four information treatment videos were completed in December, with final review and editing in January 2022.