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Crop advisers as conservation intermediaries: Perceptions and policy implications for relying on nontraditional partners to increase U.S. farmers’ adoption of soil and water conservation practices

Eanes, Francis R., Singh, Ajay S., Bulla, Brian R., Ranjan, Pranay, Fales, Mary, Wickerham, Benjamin, Doran, Patrick J., Prokopy, Linda S.
Land use policy 2019 v.81 pp. 360-370
agricultural land, agricultural policy, attitudes and opinions, conservation practices, conservation programs, farmers, information sources, interviews, private sector, soil, soil quality, supervisors, surveys, territoriality, water conservation, water quality, water resources, watersheds, Michigan
Federal agricultural land use policies in the United States aimed at protecting soil health and water quality typically rely on persuading individual farmers to voluntarily adopt conservation practices. An expanding body of literature suggests that private sector intermediaries, such as crop advisers, are increasingly trusted sources of information for farmers about conservation practices and thus may be persuasive actors in the conservation-adoption realm. While previous studies have explored farmers’ perceptions of crop advisers facilitating conservation practice adoption and participating in conservation programs in agricultural landscapes, little research to date has explored crop advisers’ perceptions of this role, and few agricultural land use policies have explicitly included crop advisers as conservation partners. This study fills a critical void in the literature by evaluating the Saginaw Bay Regional Conservation Partnership Program, an innovative agricultural policy that relies on crop advisers to recruit farmers into the program and assist them with the adoption of conservation practices. Through a survey and interviews with crop advisers in the Saginaw Bay watershed in Michigan, USA, we explore crop advisers’ perceptions of their role in the program and of delivering conservation information to farmers. We found that crop advisers have positive attitudes towards land/water resources and conservation practices, believe they have an important intermediary role to play in facilitating conservation practice adoption, and believe their supervisors are supportive of them promoting conservation. However, difficulties in collaboration and communication between the private and governmental sectors – resulting from perceived differences, operational differences, and territoriality – present a key barrier to crop advisers increasing their intermediary role in the promotion and implementation of federal conservation programs. Future research and policy initiatives should explore how to address public-private territoriality and whether crop advisers should be incentivized to deliver information about conservation practices and/or assist in enrolling farmers in federal conservation programs.