Progress report for GNE20-227
Farmers' voluntary participation in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) can promote adoption of conservation practices which in turn help Pennsylvania meet its 2025 Chesapeake Bay watershed nutrient and sediments reduction goals and improve agriculture productivity. Researchers have highlighted the need to understand the characteristics of EQIP participants. However, few studies have investigated the characteristics of EQIP participants in Pennsylvania. Due to the need to better understand producers’ decision-making process for future policy formulation and effective outreach, the economic and environmental importance of EQIP, and paucity of previous work in Pennsylvania, this project fills an important research gap. This project will use a multimethods approach to explore farmers’ participation or non-participation in EQIP, examine program recruitment strategies and approaches used by conservation field staff to secure farmers’ participation in the program, and determine constraints to conducting outreach and recruitment activities. The project will develop evidence-based recommendations that enable conservation staff to work more effectively with farmers to increase their participation in EQIP to sustain conservation gains, promote sustainability and profitability of the agricultural production, and improve environmental quality in the Northeast region. Results will be disseminated to target audiences through oral presentations, publications, webinars, and factsheets made available via project collaborators, conferences related to sustainable agriculture and natural resources conservation, and peer-reviewed journals.
Objective 1: Examine how national priorities and policies for natural resources conservation programs (e.g., EQIP) affect the structure and implementation of the conservation program at the state and local level and the overall success of the program overtime at these levels. [Funding for this research objective has been made possible by the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences]
Objective 2: Identify motivators and constraints to farmers’ participation or non-participation in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
Objective 3: Examine the different factors that facilitate and or constraints the ability of NRCS and local conservation district field staff to conduct recruitment and outreach activities to secure the participation of farmers in EQIP.
Objective 3: Evaluate the impact of EQIP contract payment for water quality-related practices on local water quality. [The project will no longer be focusing on this objective based on feedback received from my dissertation research committee members. Nonetheless, this change would not affect the project fund allocation since no budget item is associated with this objective.]
Objective 4: Develop evidence-based recommendations for practices and procedures that help conservation field staff effectively work with farmers to promote sustainable agriculture and improve environmental quality.
 Field staff of the local conservation district will be selected to participate in the study because their outreach activities include informing farmers about the different conservation programs available to producers. Hence, for this project, NRCS and local conservation district field staff are referred to as the conservation field staff.
The purpose of this project is to identify factors that promote or hinder Pennsylvania farmers' participation in the government-sponsored conservation program, EQIP, and assess the extent to which program outreach and recruitment activities influence farmers’ decisions to participate in the program.
Additionally, it will evaluate the influence of EQIP contract payment on local water quality.
Farmers’ voluntary participation in incentive-based conservation programs such as EQIP and subsequent adoption of conservation practices can help address environmental problems as well as sustain farm productivity (Cocklin et al, 2007). Farmers’ participation in EQIP can help Pennsylvania reduce nutrients and sediment levels in the Chesapeake Bay by 2025 (Wright, 2006). The EQIP is implemented by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), to help farmers address environmental problems and promote sustainable agriculture production by providing monetary and technical assistance for the installation of conservation practices on working farmlands (Wright, 2006; Oliver, 2019). Given the crucial role of farmers’ voluntary participation in achieving EQIP outcomes, it is important that research is conducted to understand what type of farmer participates or does not participate in EQIP (McCann & Nunez, 2005). These research findings are important for addressing barriers that hinder farmers’ participation decisions. Previous studies have shown that constraints including financial costs (Carlisle, 2016; Yang & Sharp, 2017); lack of or inadequate knowledge about the existence of EQIP and its purpose (Oliver, 2019), limited knowledge about the how the adoption of conservation practices can benefit farm enterprise and improve environmental quality including water quality and soil health (DeVuvst & Ipe, 1994; Feather & Amacher, 1999; Liu, Bruins, & Heberling, 2018) affect farmers’ participation. In addition, historically underserved farmers are less likely to participate in such programs (Gan et al, 2005; McCann & Nunez, 2005).
Furthermore, program implementation strategies such as visits of conservation field staff to farmers (Obubuafo, 2006), choice of outreach and farmer recruitment strategies (Bruening & Martin, 1992; Mancini et al., 2008; Sosa et al, 2013), and unavailable support to farmers for completing required enrollment paperwork (Oliver, 2019) could inhibit participation. For Pennsylvania, non-participation of farmers in EQIP could hinder the number of conservation practices adopted which in turn affect its nutrition reduction goals in the Chesapeake Bay by 2025. Few studies have examined limitations to farmers’ participation in EQIP in the context of Pennsylvania (e.g. Wright, 2006). Furthermore, few studies have focused on examining recruitment and outreach practices used by conservation field staff and how these relate to farmers’ participation in these programs.
This project will fill these gaps by (1) examine how national priorities of natural resources conservation affect the structure and implementation strategies of the program at the state and local level and the overall program success overtime at these levels [No budget item in the proposal I submitted is associated with this objective. Funding for this objective is detailed under the knowledge gained section], (2) identifying what type of farmers participate or do not participate in Pennsylvania EQIP, and 3) describing recruitment and outreach strategies of conservation field staff involved in EQIP as they relate to farmers’ participation decisions, and
3) evaluating the influence of EQIP payment on local water quality. Additionally, the project will make recommendations for how NRCS can more effectively engage farmers to adopt conservation practices that improve water quality and secure the socio-economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture through increased participation in EQIP.
Review of the literature
January to July 2020 (not covered under NE SARE grant) - This project began with a review of the scholarly work related to agri-environmental conservation programs and their impact of promoting sustainable agriculture and conservation of natural resources. The review process focused on identifying publications that have documented the structure of conservation programs and strategies employed by conservation agencies in the implementation of programs. It also identified studies that documented the experiences of farmers who participate in conservation programs as well as the outreach and recruitment practices used by conservation field staff to recruit farmers in the conservation programs. This literature shows that conservation practices adoption by farmers through Farm Bill conservation programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) can contribute to water quality improvement goals in local waterbodies. EQIP is one of the largest working lands programs among a host of conservation programs in the United States (Congressional Research Service, 2019; Reimer, Gramig, & Prokopy, 2013). It was created by the 1996 Farm Bill to provide cost-sharing, technical, and educational assistance to improve farmers’ voluntary participation in the program (Lubell et al., 2013). For EQIP, farmer participation is defined as the adoption of any or all recommended conservation practices that address the environmental effects of agriculture. Studies have shown that EQIP participation has yielded benefits to the farmer such as improved soil fertility, yield improvements, and nutrient retention on the farm, critical for sustained agricultural productivity and farm profitability (NRCS, 2019). In addition, EQIP participation has yielded environmental benefits such as improvement in local water quality (Agourdis, Workman, Warner, & Jennings, 2005; Lui, Wang & Zhang, 2018) and economic stability of farms (Bruce, Farmer, Maynard, & Valliant, 2017). Consequently, farmers’ improved participation in EQIP could serve as a crucial avenue for Pennsylvania to address water quality goals in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. To be able to improve farmers' participation in EQIP, NRCS and its partner implementation organizations should understand the factors that influence farmer’s participation decisions.
The literature on farmer participation in conservation programs has shown challenges such as farmers’ inadequate access to information on the existence and purpose of conservation programs (Oliver, 2019; Carlisle, 2016; Reimer, Weinkauff, & Prokopy, 2012; Yang & Sharp, 2017), limited knowledge about how conservation practices benefit farm enterprise and environment (DeVuvst & Ipe, 1994; Feather & Amacher, 1999; Liu, Bruins, & Heberling, 2018), inadequate visits of NRCS staff to farmers (Obubuafo, 2006; Oliver, 2019), farmer challenges for completing required enrollment paperwork (Oliver, 2019). Addressing the challenges that hinder participation in conservation programs could improve farmer participation (Reimer & Prokopy, 2014), which is critical to improving agricultural productivity and profitability and improved environmental health (NRCS, 2019). A growing body of research strives to recognize how recruitment strategies employed by conservation agencies staff relate to farmers’ participation in programs (Bruening & Martin, 1992; Mancini et al., 2008; Sosa et al, 2013). By identifying how NRCS staff responsible for EQIP farmer recruitment carry out their duties and the challenges that hinder staff from performing their duties, this project will inform strategies that will improve staff competencies in working more effectively to sustain conservation gains and the sustainability of the agriculture sector through adaptation of recruitment and outreach practices.
Following the literature review, I submitted an Institutional Review Board (IRB) application to the Pennsylvania State University IRB office. I developed the IRB protocol for human subject research for this project. The protocol documented the project objectives, scientific background and gaps in current knowledge, study rationale, the criteria for inclusion and exclusion for potential project participants, and the participant recruitment methods. In addition, the project’s consent process, details the project’s study design and procedures (details described below), and a confidentiality, privacy, and data safety and management plan for information collected during the project’s timeline are documented in the IRB protocol. Further, I submitted interview guides which included questions that will be asked to study participants during the interviews. All the documents were reviewed by a designated Penn State IRB officer. The IRB application was approved after revision (one time) at the “Exempt” level. The project IRB was approved on September 21, 2020.
August 2020 to January 2021 (NE SARE funding for this project began on August 1st, 2020) - As stated in the submitted proposal, this period was designated for data collection for this project. However, due to the Coronavirus Pandemic and changes in data collection procedures at Penn State University, this activity could not occur as planned. Nonetheless, the period was spent consulting with the USDA NRCS staff including, State Conservationist, Supervisory District Conservationists, and District Conservation Directors to identify and recruit potential participants among farmers and conservation field staff respectively from Centre, Bedford, and Lebanon Counties. In addition, potential farmer participants will be recruited using random sampling from a sample list I will build. Representatives of the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service office for Northeast region have voluntarily agreed to verify the representativeness of the final participant sample that will result from the process. During this period, I also worked with members of my dissertation research committee and my advisor to refine the project’s overarching goals and objectives.
February to July 2021 – Primary data collection for this project will begin in February 2021. During this time, a multimethod research design using in-depth interviews, document analysis, and participant survey will be employed.
This socio-behavioral science project will use an exploratory sequential multimethod research design to collect data that address the project objectives. To collect data; this project will use in-depth interviews in combination with surveys with farmers and conservation field staff operating in Pennsylvania’s part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Exploratory sequential mixed methods allow the researcher to gain an in-depth understanding of an under-researched topic and compare the results of the qualitative and quantitative research approaches (Creswell & Clark, 2017; Kolar, Ahmad, Chan, & Erickson, 2015).
Study Site and Target Population
The target population for this study will consist of livestock and crop producers with operations in Pennsylvania’s part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA-DEP) (2019) Watershed Implementation Plan - Phase 3 for the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) reduction, there are 33,000 farms located in 43 counties in the watershed. The 43 counties have been grouped into four categories (Tier I -2 counties, Tier II – 5 counties, Tier III -16 counties and Tier IV – 20 counties) based on the levels of agricultural pollutants they need to prevent from being discharged into the Bay though local water sources. Tier I counties have the largest levels of pollutants to reduce followed by Tier II counties, and the least amount by Tier III counties. Together, the producers could help address 80% of water quality degradation in the Bay mainly through the adoption of conservation practices that reduce nutrients and sediment concentrations and at the same time improve farm productivity (PA-DEP, 2019, 2020). Thus, the Chesapeake Bay watershed provides an optimal location for this project. Based on the categorizations of counties in the watershed under the Phase 3 Pennsylvania Watershed Implementation Plan prepared by DEP (2019), Based on the categorizations of counties in the watershed under the Phase 3 Pennsylvania Watershed Implementation Plan prepared by DEP (2019), the research team have selected three counties selected randomly including Centre, Bedford and Lebanon which fall within Tier 2 counties. Tier 2 counties represent counties with relatively higher pollution to reduce in the Chesapeake Bay compared with Tier 3 and 4 counties (PA-DEP, 2019).
The graduate student through preliminary inquiries has identified organizations who may act as gatekeepers for this project, including NRCS, local conservation districts, PA-DEP, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, and Penn State’s Department of Plant Science and Ecosystem Science and Management, Penn State Agriculture and Environment Center, Penn State Extension, and Institute for Sustainable Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Science (SAFES) at Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences. The Natural Resources Conservation Service and Penn State Extension will serve as the collaborators for this project to provide contacts for potential participants, and support for outreach during the dissemination of project findings.
Research objective one will be addressed using evaluative qualitative research procedures. This approach will allow researcher to assess “how well” EQIP is functioning (Ritchie & Lewis, 2003). Specifically, it will enable researcher to identify factors that facilitate the successful delivery of the program, explore the different organizational requirements that dictate delivery of the program to target audience, and the observed effects of the program from stakeholder perspectives (Ritchie & Lewis, 2003). Data will be collected through in-depth interviews with representatives of NRCS and the analysis of official documents published by the organization that guide program implementation and outreach practices. Also, official legislative policy documents will be given attention during document analysis (Medina, Isley, & Arbuckle, 2020). The interviews will be conducted with representatives whose work focus on EQIP policy development and implementation at the Federal level and in Pennsylvania. During the interviews, participants will be asked to: 1) describe the current structure and implementation strategies of EQIP, 2) share their perceptions about the strengths and weaknesses of the EQIP and 3) outline any opportunities for the improving implementation and sustainability of the program.
The graduate student will recruit 8-10 NRCS staff who are directly involved with design and implementation of the EQIP from the national through State and to the local levels. To select participants for the interviews, the graduate student will coordinate with the USDA NRCS State Conservationist for Pennsylvania to identify and recruit staff whose roles at NRCS involve developing and overseeing the implementation EQIP policy. Participants will be interviewed in-person, by telephone or online based on their preferences. All interview responses will be audio recorded, transcribed, and coded for respondents’ perspectives on the structure, strategies that enhance program delivery, and the opportunities for improving the program’s reach.
To address Objective 2, two phases of data collection will happen with farmers (Reimer & Prokopy, 2014). In the first phase, in-depth personal interviews will be conducted with purposively selected farmers in Tier 1 and 2 counties. During the interviews, participants will be asked to share their experiences which aligns with the research questions: 1) what are the farmer demographic characteristics, environmental and cultural values, norms, attitudes, and behaviors that relate to (non-)participation in EQIP? 2) what are the motivators and barriers to farmers’ participation? 3) how farmers learn about EQIP? 4) what are farmers' perceptions and satisfaction with the recruitment and outreach practices of conservation field staff related to EQIP? 5) what are farmers’ perceptions and knowledge about EQIP and the benefits of EQIP participation on the farm business and environmental health particularly local water quality?
The graduate student will recruit four to six farmers from each selected county for a total sample size of 27. Participants must identify as either grain and or livestock farmer, with or without a history of participation in EQIP, and reside in the selected counties. Participants will be interviewed in-person and all interview responses will be audio recorded, transcribed, and coded for motivators and barriers that influence farmers' participation decisions.
For the second phase, a survey questionnaire with multiple questions based on themes generated from the interview responses and literature review related to the research questions in the first phase of data collection and farmer demographic characteristics (such as age, acreage owned and operated, type of farm operation -crop versus livestock, etc.) will be developed. The survey questionnaire will be pretested with 30 farmers from the target population who are not in the study sample to check the appropriateness of the questions after it has been reviewed by natural resources conservation experts.
To select participants for the survey, the student will secure a list of producers in the four chosen counties through contacts with NRCS, Penn State Extension, Local Conservation District, PDA, PA-DEP, and farmers organizations. The collected lists will be compiled together and cleaned for duplicates to create a study sampling frame. From the sampling frame, the student will randomly select a study sample of 200 - 300 farmers from each county for a total sample size of (n=) 800-1200 for the survey using the selection criterion described above.
The validated survey questionnaire will be mailed to selected farmers following recommendations by Dillman, Smyth, and Christian (2014) over eight weeks. First, a pre-notification will be mailed to all selected participants. One week later, a survey packet consisting of a cover letter, survey, and prepaid return envelope will be mailed to participants. Two weeks later, an additional reminder/thank you letter will be sent to non-respondents. One week after the reminder mail is sent, a second mailing of the survey packet will be sent to the remaining participants, and finally, the last reminder/thank you letter will be sent out two weeks after the second survey packet. Data collection will end two weeks after the second reminder has been mailed. The research team expects that between 29-60% of farmers who receive the survey packet will complete and return it (Armstrong, Stedman, & Kleiman, 2011; Reimer & Prokopy, 2014).
The survey data will be analyzed using descriptive statistics to describe 1) the demographic characteristics of Chesapeake Bay watershed farmers and their farms, 2) their motivations and barriers to EQIP participation, 3) their perceptions and knowledge about the benefits of EQIP, and then 4) perceptions about the effectiveness of the recruitment and outreach approaches in motivating them to participate in EQIP. Second, the student will use correlational statistics to determine the differences in motivations, barriers, perceptions, and knowledge about benefits of EQIP, perceptions about the effectiveness of conservation staff’s recruitment and outreach approaches, as they relate to EQIP among participating farmers and non-participating farmers. Finally, I will use logistic regression to identify factors (demographic characteristics, motivations, barriers, knowledge, and perceptions about the benefits of EQIP participation) that explain non-participating farmers’ intentions to participate in EQIP in the future. The findings from the in-depth interviews will be used to explain any differences that may show up in the survey results.
To address Objective 3, I will conduct in-depth personal interviews will be conducted with conservation field staff to identify the pathways to farmer recruitment and outreach and constraints faced by conservation field staff to secure farmers’ participation in EQIP. The graduate student will also review recruitment materials to assess the relationship between recruitment messages and farmers’ motivations identified in Objective one above. The graduate student and her advisor will recruit four to six (4-6) conservation field staff who work in the selected counties for a total sample size of 27. Project participants will be recruited through contacts from the NRCS and the local conservation district. Participants must be a staff directly involved with conducting recruitment and outreach activities to farmers, operate in any of the selected counties, and have spent at least two years working in that capacity.
During the interviews, participants will be asked to share their experiences regarding 1) what are the outreach and recruitment practices they engage in to educate farmers about EQIP and motivate them to participate in the program? 2)What factors related to recruitment activities they consider before choosing an outreach and recruitment approach? 3) How do they perceive the success of these approaches in meeting their outreach goals related to increasing farmers' knowledge and participation in EQIP? All responses will be audio-recorded and transcribed. After transcription, the student will use thematic coding to analyze the data.
For the second phase of data collection, an online survey questionnaire with multiple questions will be developed using the Qualtrics platform based on themes from interview responses and literature review related to the research questions identified earlier. Also, the survey questions will ask about demographic characteristics of participants including age, educational level, number of years on the job, rank on the job, etc. The survey will be pretested with 20-30 conservation field staff not part of the study sample to establish its validity after a review by natural resources conservation experts. To select participants for the survey, the student will secure lists of NRCS and local conservation district field staff in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed from NRCS and local conservation district, based on the criteria described above in phase one of data collection. From the clean merged list, the student will randomly select 20 - 30 conservation field staff from each county for a total sample size of (n=) 80-120 for the survey. A link to the Qualtrics survey will be emailed to the selected participants using an introductory email that explains the project goals and encourage the staff to participate following the five-contact approach described in Objective one above. The survey data will be analyzed using descriptive and correlational statistical tools. Descriptive statistics will be used to describe demographic characteristics of Chesapeake Bay watershed conservation field staff, recruitment and outreach strategies used by conservation field staff, and constraints in their ability to conduct recruitment and outreach activities. The correlation will be used to examine the relationship between the perception of farmers and conservation field staff about the effectiveness of the recruitment strategies motivating farmers to participate in EQIP. OBJECTIVE 3 To address objective 3, the research team will collect county-level secondary water quality monitoring data from the Water Quality Portal, a detailed water quality database for the USDA and representing a cooperative service sponsored by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Water Quality Monitoring Council (NWQMC). Additionally, EQIP payment contracts for practices related to water quality improvement at the sub-watershed level to evaluate the impact of EQIP payments on ambient water quality across the four selected counties described earlier. EQIP payment data will be collected for completed contracts from 2005 to 2018. Using these data, the graduate student will evaluate the effects of EQIP payment on three water quality measures, including Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and pH that reflect key water quality indicators of importance in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. For each indicator, the student will collect readings from Jan 1st, 2005 to Dec 31st, 2018 and then combine all the measurements at the same monitoring station to generate the water quality value at the monitor-year level (Liu, Wang, & Zhang, 2018). This period has been selected to enable the tracking of water quality improvement over time. In addition to secondary data, questions related to impact on EQIP on water quality and farm productivity will also be asked as a part of Objectives 1 and 2 with farmers and conservation staff. An analysis using different data sources will be conducted to evaluate the impact of EQIP on water quality and farm productivity.
To address this objective, the data acquired from in-depth interviews and surveys of farmers and conservation staff will be used. During data analysis, the graduate student will compare responses of participating farmers, non-participating farmers, and conservation field staff to highlight different perspectives about the effectiveness of current recruitment and outreach practices to secure farmers' participation in the program. She will identify barriers to farmers’ participation in EQIP, and constraints that prevent conservation staff from conducting outreach and recruitment activities successfully. She will make evidence-based recommendations on best practices and strategies that enable conservation field staff to more effectively engage and work with farmers in securing their participation in EQIP that leads to improved water quality, and sustainable agriculture production in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and the Northeast.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
This project’s outreach will engage three audiences including 1) members of the farming community, 2) organizations working with farming communities in capacities related to natural resources conservation and 3) the broader academic community.
First, to disseminate the findings of this project, the student will hold four end of project meetings with farming community that include project participants at four centralized locations selected with the help of project collaborators. Additionally, the student will participate in three agricultural education and networking events across the Northeast including the 2021 Penn State Ag Progress Days. At these events, the presentations will focus on themes from the project showcasing who participates in EQIP, the motivators and barriers to farmers participation in conservation programs such as the EQIP, and farmers’ stories about the benefits of EQIP participation to agriculture sustainability and environmental health improvement. Attendees will be encouraged to discuss how these findings influence farmers' contribution to environmental health and the profitability of sustainable operations. Additionally, the research team will develop and distribute a publication on the project findings. The publication will serve as a farmer-to-farmer tool to help farmers increase their knowledge about the existence and benefits of EQIP participation and adoption of conservation practices to sustainable agricultural productivity and improved water quality.
Second, the student will share the findings of this project at educational gatherings related to sustainability of agriculture and improvement of environmental quality across the northeast region, including 2021 Soil and Water Conservation Society Annual Conference, 2021 Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture’s Farming for the Future Conference, and the 2021 Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group conference. The project presentations will showcase the themes from the project described earlier, and conservation field staff recruitment strategies and constraints to farmer recruitment. The attendees will be encouraged to discuss how the findings could help conservation agencies work more effectively with farmers to improve environmental quality and increase agricultural productivity through targeted farmer recruitment practices. The publications summarizing the project’s findings and recommendations will be given to attendees at each event. Additionally, the graduate student will deliver at least two webinars to outreach professionals and develop a practical guide that outreach professionals can use during recruitment and outreach activities with farmers. The practical guide will be available on the Penn State Extension website. A feedback mechanism will be built into the website so that the guide users can provide input into continuously revising the guide.
Finally, for the broader academic community, project findings will be published in peer-reviewed academic journals, such as the Soil and Water Conservation, and Society and Natural Resources. The findings are expected to make a significant contribution to frameworks within program implementation, sustainability, agricultural policy, extension education, and related fields of community engagement and natural resources management. Here, the findings will embed sustainable agriculture and program implementation practices and procedures within discussions of social issues, namely, the crucial role of tailoring institutional efforts to local needs and incorporating grassroots perspectives in agricultural policies to sustain agriculture and environmental quality in the U.S.
Not applicable at this time.
As a graduate student researcher, my skills and knowledge related to grant proposal writing, grant execution, recruitment of participants and data collection, qualitative and quantitative research instrument design, and networking with persons in agriculture industry has immensely improved. For instance, my advisor and I were invited by Dr. Rama Radhakrishna at Penn State to collaborate in developing a grant proposal for Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture based on this project to assess the use of conservation plans by farmers in Pennsylvania to promote sustainable agriculture. Although, we are yet to receive a decision on this grant application, taking part in the grant writing process improved my writing skills and my appreciation for sustainability in Pennsylvania Agriculture. Additionally, a graduate student grant application I solo applied for based on recommendation and guidance from my advisor was selected for funding by the College of Agriculture at the Pennsylvania State University to further support my dissertation research which is funded by NE SARE. In addition to what is described above, the NE SARE proposal allowed me and my advisor to dive deeper in the literature related to program participation, environmental governance, and environmental policy to learn more that sustainability of agriculture using implementation of best management practices supported with public funding through conservation programs. Finally, this project allowed us to build our network with key players promoting sustainable agriculture specifically in Pennsylvania (e.g., local conservation districts, USDA NRCS, USDA NASS, PASA).