, Volume 53, Issue 2, pp 318-332
Date: 11 Oct 2013

Farmer Participation in U.S. Farm Bill Conservation Programs

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Abstract

Conservation policy in agricultural systems in the United States relies primarily on voluntary action by farmers. Federal conservation programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, offer incentives, both financial and technical, to farmers in exchange for adoption of conservation practices. Understanding motivations for (as well as barriers to) participation in voluntary programs is important for the design of future policy and effective outreach. While a significant literature has explored motivations and barriers to conservation practice adoption and participation in single programs, few studies in the U.S. context have explored general participation by farmers in one place and time. A mixed-methods research approach was utilized to explore farmer participation in all U.S. Farm Bill programs in Indiana. Current and past program engagement was high, with nearly half of survey respondents reporting participation in at least one program. Most participants had experience with the Conservation Reserve Program, with much lower participation rates in other programs. Most interview participants who had experience in programs were motivated by the environmental benefits of practices, with incentives primarily serving to reduce the financial and technical barriers to practice adoption. The current policy arrangement, which offers multiple policy approaches to conservation, offers farmers with different needs and motivations a menu of options. However, evidence suggests that the complexity of the system may be a barrier that prevents participation by farmers with scarce time or resources. Outreach efforts should focus on increasing awareness of program options, while future policy must balance flexibility of programs with complexity.