Understanding barriers to conservation

Research shows that Ohio farmers and those across the eastern Corn Belt and Great Lakes region value conservation, according to Robyn Wilson, CFAES professor of risk analysis and decision science and acting associate director of the college’s School of Environment and Natural Resources. 

Over two-thirds of farmers surveyed report believing “good farmers” care about soil health and local waterways and should take actions that reflect a value on both profit and environmental quality. 

“But, despite relatively high levels of belief in the importance of conservation, participation remains relatively low and static,” Wilson said. “However, we find farmers with high versus low perceived ability to act are 15 times more likely to have conservation practices in place.” 

Wilson’s research suggests that values and intentions toward conservation aren’t translating into action due to a lack of ability to do the recommended practices or concern that the practices won’t be effective at achieving goals such as reducing nutrient loss or improving water quality. 

Wilson hopes to better understand how to remove farmers’ motivational barriers in adopting conservation practices. 

“We’re testing how much more likely a farmer is to engage in conservation with a thoughtful ‘if-then’ implementation plan that helps them think through getting from A to B, and how to overcome challenges they will likely face,” she said. “Most farmers are intrinsically motivated to engage in conservation.” 

“We are assessing how to maintain this motivation when economic incentives end. We know offering financial incentives creates extrinsic motivation that can squash any intrinsic reasons to continue in the practice when the money goes away.”