AMES, Iowa -- Conservation loan programs appear to be leading to significant improvements in Iowa land and water quality, according to a recently released study of Iowa landowners.
Specifically, low-interest loans available through the State Revolving Fund (SRF) seem to be helping landowners to make larger conservation investments faster than they would have had they relied solely on traditional cost-share programs, according to Iowa State University Extension Sociologist J. Gordon Arbuckle Jr.
Arbuckle was the lead investigator for the research project that was a joint effort of Iowa State, the Iowa Learning Farm, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship
Low-interest loans through the SRF’s Local Water Protection Program and Livestock Water Quality Program have been available since 2005. The loan programs are designed to improve water quality by increasing the scope, scale and rate of agricultural best management practices in Iowa. The loans can make it easier for landowners to carry out conservation practices by allowing them to spread costs over time. The study examined the effectiveness of these low-interest loan programs, as well as how to increase their use by landowners.
The report, “Program Evaluation of the State Revolving Fund Loan Programs for Agricultural Best Practices,” is available online at www.soc.iastate.edu/staff/arbuckle.html.
Arbuckle and his research team surveyed 726 landowners, comparing those who participated in loan programs with those who did not on numerous variables including conservation practice implementation, such as types, expense, funding sources and motivations; farm characteristics such as size and income; attitudes regarding appropriate uses for loans and socioeconomic characteristics.
“We were asked to shed light on why some landowners decided to participate in the loan programs while others did not, and to examine the potential impacts of the loans on conservation behavior,” Arbuckle said. The researchers also evaluated participants’ experiences with and perspectives on the programs.
“The loan programs appear to be complementing traditional conservation cost-share programs. Most loan recipients felt that the loans helped them to reach their conservation goals more quickly than they would have without the loans,” Arbuckle said. “Also, almost all loan users would recommend the programs to a friend or take another loan themselves.”
In addition, the researchers conducted focus groups with Soil and Water Conservation District staff across the state.
“We asked staff to share their experiences with the loan programs and their opinions regarding strengths and weaknesses,” Arbuckle said. “What we found was that like any new program, this one is taking some time to work its way into the conservation toolkit. Staff who have promoted loans a lot really like them because they help get more practices on the ground more quickly. Others have not used the programs as much, but are becoming more familiar with them.
“Between the focus groups and the survey, it was clear that a primary reason that landowners in some parts of Iowa have not used the loans is that they don’t know the programs are available,” he added. “With a little more promotion, use of low-interest loans for conservation will likely take off even more.”
J. Gordon Arbuckle Jr., ISU Department of Sociology, (515) 294-1497,
Laura Sternweis, Extension Communications and External Relations, (515) 294-0775,