Engaging Farmers to Improve Communication and Model Representation of Agricultural Ecosystem Services

Final Report for GNC10-140

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2010: $9,997.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Grant Recipient: Purdue University
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Indrajeet Chaubey
Purdue University
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Jane Frankenberger
Purdue University
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Project Information


The goal of our project was to evaluate how Indiana farmers describe, understand, and value ecosystem services. In 2012 we interviewed 15 farmers about their knowledge of ecosystem services, surveyed 200+ farmers about their knowledge of ecosystem services, surveyed 30+ National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) conservationists, and then presented these results at an academic conference. In 2013, we analyzed the results from the farmer interviews and the farmer and conservationist surveys. In 2014, three focus groups were held across Indiana to further understand farmers’ views on ecosystem services.


Land use and land management inherently control the provision of ecosystem services.  Ecosystem services are defined as benefits that people obtain from their environment and are critical for human well-being. Since over 40% of our landscapes are agricultural, there is a need to engage agricultural land managers and owners to improve and restore ecosystem services in the landscape. Although many agricultural lands are managed primarily to provide food, by using an ecosystem service based approach to management, we can begin to manage agricultural lands in ways that maintain multiple ecosystem services.

Project Objectives:

Our main objectives were to:

1) identify knowledge gaps in farmer understanding of ecosystem services

2) develop a shared environmental and economic language for effectively communicating about ecosystem services to farmers. 


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Dr. Indrajeet Chaubey
  • Dr. Jane Frankenberger
  • Margaret Kalcic
  • Elizabeth Trybula


Materials and methods:

Our methods included:

  1. In-depth interviews of 15 agricultural producers in Indiana.
  2. Survey of agricultural producers in Indiana (200+).
  3. Survey of NRCS conservationists in Indiana (30+)
  4. Focus groups with Indiana farmers: Northern Indiana (Lake County), Central Indiana (Tippecanoe County), and Southern Indiana (Bartholomew County).

Research results and discussion:

Major findings:

  1. Most farmers had not heard of the term “ecosystem services”
  2. Despite not knowing the term “ecosystem services” most farmers recognized the benefits that ecosystems provide to people.
  3. Farmers generally felt that they were primary stewards of ecosystem services provided by croplands.
  4. Farmers generally self-identified as conservation-minded, and indicated that they would consider making changes on their land to improve ecosystem services.
  5. Publicly-funded professionals were identified as a key resource where farmers liked to get information.

*See manuscript in Impact of Results/Outcomes section for detailed survey results.
*Selected impactful quotes from the farmer focus groups are attached.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

We presented our findings in two public arenas:

1. We presented on, "Assessing farmer understanding of agricultural ecosystem services" at the 2012 A Community on Ecosystem Services (ACES) conference.
2. Our results were published in a paper entitled, "Ecosystem services and Indiana agriculture: Farmers’ and conservationists’ perceptions" in the International Journal of Biodiversity Science, Ecosystem Services & Management in 2015 (doi: 10.1080/21513732.2014.998711).

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The main outcome of our findings is that we demonstrate a specific opportunity to engage U.S. farmers to restore, maintain, and improve ecosystem services provided by agricultural lands.

The pre-publisher version of the manuscript published in the International Journal of Biodiversity Science, Ecosystem Services & Managment (http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/21513732.2014.998711) is attached.


Areas needing additional study

This work was simply a first step into evaluating how farmers understand, describe, and value ecosystem services. More work needs to be done to engage farmers on developing and implementing management strategies which enhance multiple ecosystem services, while simultaneously maintaining farm profitability.

Information Products

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.