Study Shows the Challenges and Opportunities of Edge-of-Field Conservation Adoption

Survey by Iowa State researchers shows challenges of implementing edge-of-field practices

March 7, 2024, 1:48 pm | Ann Staudt, Jacqueline Comito

AMES, Iowa – A research report documenting current trends in the adoption and understanding of edge-of-field conservation practices among Iowa farmers and landowners has been published by specialists with Iowa State University and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. “Decoding Iowa Farmers’ Understanding of Edge-of-Field Practices” was published in February and is accompanied by an infographic depicting key findings.

According to co-author Jacqueline Comito, director of Iowa Learning Farms and adjunct assistant professor in Iowa State’s Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management, the study was designed to gather and analyze data to help understand how farmers and landowners view edge-of-field practices and identify barriers to accelerating adoption.

An Iowa wetland.“EOF practices have significant potential to improve water quality by reducing nitrogen loads as called for in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy,” she noted. “This study will help to inform actions and approaches to accelerate adoption of EOF practices throughout Iowa.”

“Our results indicate that edge-of-field practices such as saturated buffers and bioreactors are poorly understood, despite their robust nutrient reduction potential,” said Wendong Zhang, extension economist and assistant professor in the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University and Center for Agricultural and Rural Development faculty collaborator at Iowa State. “More efforts and innovative strategies are needed to enhance farmers’ understanding of these edge-of-field practices.”

Key findings included in the report

  • There was notable ambiguity among farmers regarding the environmental benefits that saturated buffers, bioreactors and wetlands can provide.
  • More than one-third of farmers are concerned about the bureaucratic challenges or government regulations associated with implementing edge-of-field practices. This could act as a deterrent to farmers’ participation in conservation programs.
  • Widespread unfamiliarity with edge-of-field practices highlights the need for enhanced outreach and education.

“The study also examined different educational material approaches to help determine the best way to teach this material and motivate adoption,” said Xiaolan Wan, co-author and Ph.D. candidate in Iowa State’s Department of Economics. “We found that study participants preferred infographics over instructional videos. This approach should be further studied to ensure that information is available and impactful to the broadest segment of farmers and landowners.”

Data for the report was gathered through two surveys conducted in summer of 2022 and 2023 of over 1,000 farmers and landowners residing in five Iowa watersheds.

This survey was supported by the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s State Soil Conservation and Water Quality Committee, and the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

The full report and infographic are also available on the Iowa Learning Farms website.

Shareable photo: Iowa wetland

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