Evaluating Stakeholder Perceptions on Palmer Amaranth Management in Georgia

Final report for GS19-217

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2019: $14,797.00
Projected End Date: 08/31/2022
Grant Recipient: University of Georgia
Region: Southern
State: Georgia
Graduate Student:
Major Professor:
Dr. Jennifer Thompson
University of Georgia
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Project Information


1) Research Problem:

Over the last 20 years the adoption of herbicide tolerant (HT) crops in the Southeast, primarily cotton, has increased the adoption of conservation tillage systems, which has been shown to increase the environmental sustainability of row crop production. Consequently, a high reliance on glyphosate within these cropping systems has strongly selected for herbicide resistance in Palmer amaranth, a pernicious annual weed. In response, farmers have re-incorporated deep tillage and spend large amounts of money on hand weeding, both of which decrease environmental and economic sustainability. Misuse of herbicides has also presented environmental, social and economic challenges, with numerous reports of damage to non-HT crops, including high-value specialty crops, leading to economic, legal and interpersonal tensions within rural communities. Integrated weed management (IWM) has been proposed as a solution to some of these issues and includes the use of herbicide and mechanical-physical practices such as cultivation and hand-weeding, but also cultural practices such as crop rotation and the use of cover crops, which may decrease herbicide use overall. In the wake of challenges with herbicide resistant weeds, integrated weed management (IWM) research has been steadily increasing and results have shown IWM systems to be highly effective in managing herbicide resistant weeds. Practices such as cover cropping have been suggested to balance weed suppression and soil conservation; however, cover crops add to management complexity and the adoption of IWM remains low. 

Understanding how and why IWM practices are or are not adopted requires research that identifies and describes distinct perspectives that exist within these social ecosystems. Adoption research often focuses on the end-users, farmers, but Extension agents, industry representatives and salespeople are also part of the “social ecosystem” of weed management. The interactions among these groups determine how weed management is practiced, so the goal of this study was to characterize viewpoints from these different stakeholder groups around how to best manage Palmer amaranth, identify points of divergence and convergence among perspectives, and determine if/why stakeholders view ecological practices as viable management strategies. We hope understanding this social context will aid in the design of future educational and incentive programs to promote the adoption of more sustainable practices.


2) Research Approach:

To investigate this issue, we used an approach called Q-Methodology (QM) to identify and describe shared perceptions of agricultural systems, farmer livelihoods, and sustainability among row-crop stakeholders in the state of Georgia. These perceptions emerged through a facilitated dialogue in which participants shared their thoughts on the relative merits of practices to manage the problematic weed, Palmer amaranth. Given the inherent parameters imposed by our statement-cards, as well as the game-like nature of the card sort, we believe that QM was a highly effective tool in encouraging a safe space for researcher-participant interaction, which lead to a productive and enjoyable research process for agricultural stakeholders. QM has considerable utility for work on human dimensions research in agriculture, particularly where interactions among varied stakeholder motivations and worldviews shape both farming practices and the landscape itself. In our case specifically, QM allowed us to identify and holistically describe perspectives that contribute to a greater understanding of the factors that influence stakeholder decision-making and how they envision the ongoing challenge of farming and managing weeds.


3) Research Conclusions:

Results from our analyses of management preferences for Palmer amaranth uncovered two distinct perspectives that reflect not just these preferences, but generalized worldviews on agriculture. The two perspectives diverged substantially in their attitudes toward the three knowledge categories of weed management (biological-cultural, chemical-technological, and mechanical-physical), but widely agreed on many best management practicies for herbicide stewardship and the need to understand basic biological characteristics of Palmer amaranth. Building on this, while differences were evident between perspectives around views of technology and system management, similarities were identified around attitudes toward regulation and path dependence.


4) Farmer Adoption Actions: n/a

This study serves as a formative assessment to evaluate perceptions and attitudes around IWM which may help the design of more effective education and outreach strategies to enhance the adoption of IWM practices.


Project Objectives:

1. Identify viewpoints from different stakeholder groups around how to best manage Palmer amaranth;

2. Characterize how viewpoints are convergent or divergent among different stakeholder groups;

3. Determine if stakeholders view an IWM approach, especially ecological practices, as viable management strategies.


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  • Melissa Ray (Researcher)


Materials and methods:

Approach: To investigate this issue, we used a social science methodology called Q-Methodology (QM), which integrates approaches from quantitative and qualitative traditions to systematically explore, define, and compare sets of subjectivities on a given topic area (i.e., management of Palmer amaranth). QM has been used increasingly within the fields of rural sociology and agricultural sustainability management to examine topic areas that may be considered polarizing, charged, or particularly complex, which made it a good fit for our research topic. The method involves a focused card sort activity (called a “Q-sort”) in which a participant is asked to rank cards (called a “Q-set”) containing statements about a certain subject along a grid (see Figure 1 below).

Figure 1

The goal of this is to indicate a relative preference for a collection of statements. Our sorting process was enhanced by the use of a survey and interview, allowing us to collect relevant demographic data and ask clarifying questions about participants’ selections and decision-making processes. These interviews frequently turned into in-depth discussions with participants, in which both the researchers and the participants left the activity with more knowledge than when they entered.

Instrument development (Q-set): We used Google and Google Scholar search engine using the keywords “Palmer amaranth”, “Palmer amaranth management” and “Palmer amaranth biocontrol” to identify an exhaustive list of topics and practices that have been or are currently being studied or used to manage this weed. Approximately 150 article titles were screened, and 60 read in-depth to inform the construction of a concourse of 40 statements relevant to our research questions.  The statements were further screened to avoid redundancy and enhance clarity. This process led to the selection of 24 representative statements for Q-set. This Q-set was piloted with 10 participants, including agronomic researchers and weed science graduate students at the UGA. These participants were asked to sort this initial set of cards using a, “condition of instruction”, a standardized question that structures the sorting activity. In our study, the condition of instruction was, “_______ is essential to the ongoing management of Palmer amaranth.” Our final list of statements in the Q-set were selected to represent three knowledge categories that inform weed management. These were classified as biological-cultural (n = 10), chemical-technological (n = 9), and mechanical-physical (n = 5) (Table 4.1).  

Participant Selection: An important goal in QM participant selection is strategic heterogeneity; selecting participants with varied viewpoints that reflect differences of interest based on a priori experience with the research topic. For this study, we followed a non-random, criterion-based sampling strategy based on identifying individuals representing different stakeholder types from a geographically diverse range. The state of Georgia (US) comprises 159 county areas of varying size and geographical location (mean county area = 969 km2), almost all of which are involved with some type of agriculture production. Our goal in sampling was to select counties based on the area of annual row-crops produced (cotton, corn, and peanut), and their position on a NE-SW gradient along which the majority of annual row-crops are produced. The rationale for using these criteria was based on the prevalence of Palmer amaranth within these production systems, and the goal of sampling from a diverse geographic range, which would also capture ancillary production systems such as livestock or horticulture that may alter weed management practices and recommendations.  Ultimately, we directly contacted UGA Extension agents in 12 counties to assist with participant recruitment. Of the 12 we contacted, six county Extension agents expressed willingness to participate. In each of these six counties, we spoke with 1) the county extension agent responsible for providing crop and weed management support, 2) two farmers, and 3) a consultant from an agrichemical company involved in providing crop and weed management support to farmers within the county. Within the farmer stakeholder group, we were also interested in differences based on a farmer’s receptivity to IWM practices, namely the active participation or lack thereof in cover cropping, so the extension agents were asked to recommend two farmers who would fall on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of cover crop use.

Data Collection: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, data collection began in-person, but was stalled for several months before restarting virtually over Zoom. In total, two researchers spoke with 23 participants over a period of two and a half years from six counties in the state. The one exception to our criteria occurred in a county where the extension agent had previous experience in the agrichemical sector and thus fulfilled two roles. All stakeholders were provided with a stipend for their involvement.

Data Analysis: Data analysis included the integration of quantitative and qualitative strategies. First, the Q-sort data were analyzed using KADE, an open-source QM analysis software, which calculates correlations among participants' card sorts and allows us to  visualize the results as composite or “idealized” Q-sorts. These idealized Q-sorts represent the weighted average sort of all participants loaded onto a specific factor. Statements whose idealized Q-sort rankings were statistically different between factors were determined at the p < 0.01 significance level.

After the identification and selection of two factors in KADE, both survey data and interview transcripts were divided based on factor membership. Descriptive statistics were calculated for each factor from participant survey responses and are presented in Table 1 (included in the Results and Discussion section of this report). Participants’ transcripts were analyzed using ATLAS.ti, a qualitative coding software, and were organized by factor. Two researchers participated in the coding process. The entirety of each transcript (from pre-sort survey through post-sort interview) was coded in an iterative process beginning with a first-cycle coding approach that can be described as “descriptive” or “deductive”. We used keywords from the statement cards to create 24 codes then identified demonstrative quotations for each code per each factor. Second-cycle coding was used to index codes that emerged inductively from memos and discussion between coders during the first-cycle coding. This process led to the development of themes that helped to further enlighten the description and understanding of the two factors. The goal of this analytical process was to generate interpretations of each factor through an integrated analysis or triangulation of idealized q-sorts, participant transcripts, and survey data in order to develop a comprehensive perspective represented by each factor.  

Research results and discussion:


Table 1. Descriptive statistics for each perspective (P1 and P2) based on survey questions.




Sample size 

N = 14 

N = 9 

Stakeholder composition (% of total extension/farmer/consultant) 



Average age (years) 



Farm size (ha)a 



% land owneda 



Experience (years) 



Diversity of management experienceb 



Specialty crop presence affects weed management (% yes) 



Palmer severity rating (1-10)c 



Palmer primary pest (% yes) 



Experience with herbicide resistant Palmer (% yes) 



Experience with auxin crop-herbicide packages (% yes) 



Conservation tillage receptivity (1-10)d 



Cover crop experience (years) 



% eligible participants that have received funding for cover cropse 



aValues for farm size and ownership represent those from farmers only. 
bParticipants had 4 operation categories from which to choose: Row crops, pastured livestock, horticultural crops and timber crops. Least diverse to most diverse experience values range from 1 to 4.  
cHigher values indicate greater perception of Palmer severity. 
dHigher values indicate greater receptivity to conservation tillage practices. 
eMean values calculated based on farmer and extension stakeholders only. Industry representatives not involved in state funded cover crop research and/or use (sample sizes, P1 [n = 11] and P2 [n = 7]) 


Table 2. Idealized Q-sort rankings for each statement card and perspective. Statement cards are presented in descending order relative to the inter-factor z-score variance. Differences between factors are indicated by “*” which represent thresholds of p < 0.01. Consensus and disagreement statement cards are separated by an empty row.  


Perspective 1 

Perspective 2 

Z-score variance 

Using primary tillage (plowing, disking etc.)* 




Using secondary tillage (mechanical cultivation)* 




Incorporating semi-permanent pastures and forages into rotations* 




Using cover crops* 




Using higher crop seeding rates* 




Using conservation tillage (no-till or strip-till)* 




Relying on pathogens to kill Palmer plants and seeds* 




Relying on auxin herbicides (2,4-D and dicamba) * 




Using current transgenic crops and herbicides* 




Having access to new transgenic crops and herbicide packages* 




Relying on Roundup* 




Relying on insects and rodents to eat Palmer plants and seeds* 








Washing harvest equipment and tires to limit Palmer seed movement 








Keeping herbicide use constant 




Rotating herbicide MOAs and using tank-mixes 




Having a diverse cash crop rotation 




Using technologies like drones 




Growing more than two crops at a time (intercropping) 




Reducing herbicide use 




Increasing herbicide use 




Adopting narrow row spacing in crop production 




Managing Palmer populations on field borders and waterways 




Understanding how Palmer grows and reproduces 





Narrative descriptions of the two factors extracted from our analyses are presented as Perspective 1 and Perspective 2 below:

Perspective 1 (P1): Right now, what I’m doing is working.” (n = 14),
Themes: techno-optimism, -dissonance, and the “management program” 
This perspective viewed agronomic efficiency and productivity as essential pathways to economic viability. Farming was seen as an increasingly challenging business where uncontrollable factors such as weather and market forces perpetuated a highly variable and stressful working environment. P1 comprised 83 percent of extension agents, 50 percent of farmers, and 60 percent of agrichemical consultants. Of the farmers who had been referred to us by extension for their lack of interest in cover crops, 83 percent ended up in P1.

Managing Palmer amaranth was seen as one of many management challenges. Herbicide-centric management and, when possible, HT crop-herbicide packages were considered to be the most practical, effective, and economical methods to control Palmer amaranth. P1 appears cognizant of the potential benefits of biological-cultural practices, such as cover crops, but displayed greater hesitancy toward adopting alternative practices given the potential for increased management complexity. P1 valued management simplicity and herbicide-centric approaches to weed management, regardless of potential pitfalls. Weed management was generally framed as a linear process. This was described by many as a “management program” where different herbicides had specific roles to accomplish, and were assembled in a logical order to balance effectiveness and cost. However, many in P1 also recognized the inherent challenges with herbicide-centric management, including human error and carelessness, but saw no viable alternatives, a perspective known as “techno-dissonance” (Dentzman et al. 2016). One participant mentioned that, “Somebody’s going to screw it up and start using a lower rate. That’s what worries the tar out of me is they’re going to start building resistance”, while another added that, “Everything evolves, everything changes, you know. We know that no matter how good a herbicide is now, that it is only going to last so long. We can protect it with management - try to extend its life…but eventually how long will it last?” 

P1 expressed mixed receptivity to cover crops. While recognizing the benefits of cover crops in suppressing Palmer amaranth, and those related to soil conservation, participants from P1 also made clear that, “there's also expenses associated with it.” Despite being ranked similarly, conservation tillage practices were seen as somewhat important, with participants stressing gains in fuel and labor efficiency, as much if not more than any potential improvements to weed management. Tillage, while placed in a neutral column, was considered an important option under worst-case scenarios such as herbicide resistant Palmer amaranth. Said one participant in P1, “When Roundup started failing us, we had to go back to the old, traditional plowing.” 

Others mentioned an overall belief in the ongoing ability of both scientists to develop new products and Land Grant-based weed scientists to verify their efficacy, “I know how much science and research goes into developing a new product and it's tested by our specialists. If UGA backs it, then it's got to be a good product and they're having to constantly come up with new things, because there is so much resistance.”  

P1 participants spoke at greater length about spray equipment, herbicide types and herbicide management approaches, information which was readily available and shared among stakeholders on a regular basis through workshops, field days and one-on-one interactions. Given the potential for legal or financial challenges, participants were equally cognizant of externalities such as herbicide resistance and potential off-site movement of herbicides that could damage non-target crops. 


Perspective 2 (P2): "Some cover is good, more is better. Some tillage is bad, more is worse.” (n = 9) 
Themes: techno-skepticism and cover crop multifunctionality 
In contrast to P1, participants in P2 viewed the synergistic use of conservation tillage and cover crops as the pathway to agronomic and economic success. P2 participants spoke about the use of herbicide, but had an interest in reducing or complementing this with the practices mentioned above. While diversification strategies were viewed through agronomic and economic lenses, for some participants in P2, they were also seen through moral and aesthetic lenses. P2 comprised 17 percent of extension, 50 percent farmers and 40 percent of the agrichemical consultants. Eighty-three percent of farmers identified as “cover crop farmers” by extension ended up in P2.

Dealing with Palmer amaranth was seen as one of several emergent, beneficial properties of a farming system focused on tillage reduction and cover crop implementation. Many participants from P2 expressed as much—with one saying, “I don’t really know how to separate my using conservation tillage from the cover crops.” There was also more discussion around intensive cover crop management; said one participant, “We're taking care of our cover crop, treating it like a cash crop. We're able to get a ton of biomass…we're not giving the pigweed anywhere to go, anywhere to grow.” P2 participants viewed newer crop-herbicides packages as simply one practice, among many, to help manage Palmer amaranth. As one participant put it, “I think they're useful. I don’t think they're essential. I don’t think we have to rely on the auxin herbicides for good control. They're another good tool.”

Statement cards related to tillage were among the most negatively placed, as these strategies could negatively impact the soil-based improvements that participants felt they had made over a long period of conservation tillage implementation.

P2 participants recognized the importance of chemical-technological approaches, but questioned the extent to which they should be relied upon (techno-skepticism). In particular, the use of auxin herbicides (2,4-D and Dicamba) and crops engineered with resistance to them were viewed as something to be used infrequently, if at all. Some mentioned that these herbicides were, “…not to be used as your primary - you ought to have it under control before you have to use that.” This techno-skepticism was associated with a different notion of weed management. One participant put it this way, “I'll tell you that going forward, I don’t think chemistry is going to be the answer…I think biological control of weeds is going to by far outweigh chemical/transgenic applications, because essentially, we’re dangerously close to running out of new chemistry.”  

For many in P2, cover crop use began as a remedy for a singular management challenge. One participant mentioned that, “Resistant weed management was definitely a focal point in my passion to implement cover crops.” However, participants shared that the multifunctionality of this practice was key to its continued use. One participant clearly framed this idea when talking about early experimentation with a specific cover crop species: “I found out inadvertently early on…that tropical legume sunn hemp from a clean start, a dead start, will outgrow and suppress the pigweed all by itself. At 60 days the cover crop will be eight feet tall and the pigweed, if a pigweed emerged and started to grow with it, would be completely shaded out, would never make seed, and never reproduce. In the same time frame you've already made 150 plus units of nitrogen with that Sun Hemp, so boy where’s the loss in this equation. Weed suppression, complete suppression of resistant Palmer and 150 pounds of nitrogen, that opened my eyes pretty big.”  

The notion of the multifunctionality of cover crops extended beyond the agronomic or economic benefits into areas of family and rural livelihood, environmental stewardship, and even aesthetics. One participant shared that cover cropping was, “the best thing for the family farm, the best thing for the environment, the best thing for the family and the community” and followed this by saying: “I love to see my children out picking flowers in a field or picking peas in a field of a cover crop …taking them to their grandparents, it’s a thing of beauty.”  Yet another framed management practices in an almost moral light, “I take pride in being a good steward…it's an opportunity or privilege to do something good for the world by the way I farm.” 

Points of convergence:
Participants from both perspectives spoke about how essential crop rotation and the use of diverse herbicide MOA and tank mixes were for managing Palmer and staving off herbicide resistance. Participants across both perspectives were skeptical about the effectiveness of regulation in limiting “bad behavior” and incentivization in motivating adoption of biological-cultural practices, such as cover crops. While herbicide resistance and Palmer amaranth management were described in serious terms by all participants, there was a general view that these phenomena arose from individuals seeking to cut costs and “cut corners.” Despite this, most participants shared the belief that regulatory efforts geared toward limitations on the use of certain herbicides were an ill-conceived, one-size-fits-all approach that would both reduce farmers’ options for managing this weed and fail to account for farm-specific contextualities. Lastly, many participants commented on the idea of “path dependence or “lock-in.” Path dependence can be understood as a phenomenon by which a specific technology receives continual investment and dynamic returns over time, becoming self-reinforcing and essentially “locking out” any potential alternative technology, even if an alternative would provide potentially superior results or reduce risk.


The management and ideological orientations expressed (to a greater extent in P1, but evident in both perspectives) are representative of the dominant paradigm for weed management in both Georgia and the US. Even discussions around IWM practices were framed within the confines of an herbicide-centric paradigm. For example, while both perspectives highlighted the importance of crop rotation, much of this centered on its role in allowing for the use of a more diverse suite of herbicides. More so, even the notion of diversity was often limited to the inclusion of two rather than just one crop in a rotation—as is the case in Georgia, where diversification in the majority of agricultural land devoted to the production of cotton describes the addition of peanut as a crop rotation partner. While cover crops were the IWM practice most discussed and used by both perspectives, they were only present on approximately 12 percent of harvested cropland in the state as recently as 2017. Other IWM practices represented within our statement cards, such as the use of insects or fungi for biocontrol of Palmer amaranth, are presently under-developed or researched, and almost non-existent within contemporary cropping systems in the state. The reality of IWM practices on the ground is that few are implemented and, those that are, are sparsely practiced.

Given the systemic challenges associated with the transition to IWM systems, and described by the participants from each perspective, we call attention to the role of policy governing the use of cover crops, specifically. Meta-analyses in both the Midwest and Southeast have consistently shown that cover crop biomass quantity strongly correlated with weed suppression, which is directly tied to earlier planting and later termination dates (Nichols et al. 2020; Weisberger et al. 2022) Additionally, having a reasonable base cost-share payment for those who may not be ready from either a structural or even personal level to optimize cover crop biomass may help retain farmers who might otherwise opt out of these programs after the expiration of the funding period (Wardropper et al. 2022).

While the two perspectives which emerged from our study are not an exhaustive representation of perspectives on integrated approaches to weed management, they do correspond to similar observations within the literature. For example, Dentzman and Jussaume (2017) commented on the association between a farming ideology based on constant vigilance of time/labor demands and production efficiency and a decreased appetite for IWM practices. This same ideology has been associated with increased techno-optimism and -dissonance, suggesting that stakeholders involved in perpetuating this model may struggle to believe in the possibility of alternative weed management systems, whether or not they have faith in the possibility or new chemical-technological advancements (Dentzman et al. 2016; Dentzman and Jussaume, 2017; Jussaume et al. 2019; Jussaume et al. 2021). Conversely, prior work on stakeholders with a strong interest in cover crops, conservation tillage, and a desire to further diversify cropping systems has shown strong evidence for a “systems-thinking” mentality that ascribes myriad agri-environmental and social benefits to the adoption of these practices (Arbuckle and Roesch-McNally, 2015; Rosenzweig et al. 2019; Church et al. 2020). More recently, the agronomic practices mentioned above have been identified under the rubric of “Regenerative Agriculture”, which purports benefits of this systems-level approach, and is highly disinclined to implement even strategic tillage operations (Dentzman and Burke, 2021; Giller et al. 2021).  


Participation Summary
12 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

3 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

25 Farmers participated
5 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:
Cover Crop Field Day at UGA Southeast REC
March 16th, 2022
  • Shared information and results related to this work on Integrated Weed Management and the human dimensions of IWM to farmers and ag professionals in attendance.

Cultivating Connections: The Joint Ag, Food, and Human Values / Association for the Study of Food and Society conference in Athens, GA
May 21st, 2022

  • Presented on the methodology and initial results of this research to a multi-disciplinary audience of faculty, students, and community practitioners.

August 24th, 2022

  • The overarching goal of this dissertation was to evaluate the biophysical effects of integrated approaches to weed management, those that rely on practices in addition to herbicide-use, and to identify stakeholder perceptions of these approaches. This SARE project served as an integral part of a larger interdisciplinary effort to explore both biophysical and social dimensions of integrated weed management in Georgia and the Southeast US.
Pending: one manuscript is being prepared for submission to peer-reviewed journal

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

We used QM to identify and describe shared perceptions of agricultural systems, farmer livelihoods, and sustainability among row-crop stakeholders in the state of Georgia. These perceptions emerged through a facilitated dialogue in which participants shared their thoughts on the relative merits of practices to manage the problematic weed, Palmer amaranth. Given the inherent parameters imposed by our statement-cards, as well as the game-like nature of the card sort, we believe that QM was a highly effective tool in encouraging a safe space for researcher-participant interaction, which lead to a productive and enjoyable research process for agricultural stakeholders. QM has considerable utility for work on human dimensions research in agriculture, particularly where interactions among varied stakeholder motivations and worldviews shape both farming practices and the landscape itself. In our case specifically, QM allowed us to identify and holistically describe perspectives that contribute to a greater understanding of the factors that influence stakeholder decision-making and how they envision the ongoing challenge of farming and managing weeds. Moving from a description of stakeholder perspectives to actionable steps to catalyze the adoption of greater IWM is extremely challenging. A body of literature, and now the results presented in this study, characterize the degree to which systemic factors shape stakeholder perceptions and practices. Given this, our research approach was carefully considered to work with varied stakeholders across farming, public and private sectors, as these collectively shape what farming practices look like in real time. Addressing the complex, “economic, ecological, and sociological consequences” of weed management will similarly entail a collective effort shared by members of the groups discussed above, and increasingly the public at large, to influence policy and practice. 


Works Cited:

Arbuckle, J. G. and Roesch-McNally, G. (2015) ‘Cover crop adoption in Iowa: The role of perceived practice characteristics’, Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, 70(6), pp. 418–429. doi: 10.2489/jswc.70.6.418.

Basche, A. et al. (2020) ‘Evaluating the Untapped Potential of U.S. Conservation Investments to Improve Soil and Environmental Health’, Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, 4(November). doi: 10.3389/fsufs.2020.547876.

Bergtold, J. S. et al. (2019) ‘A review of economic considerations for cover crops as a conservation practice’, Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, 34(1), pp. 62–76. doi: 10.1017/S1742170517000278.

Church, S. P. et al. (2020) ‘The role of systems thinking in cover crop adoption: Implications for conservation communication’, Land Use Policy, 94(June 2019), p. 104508. doi: 10.1016/j.landusepol.2020.104508.

Dentzman, K. and Burke, I. C. (2021) ‘Herbicide Resistance, Tillage, and Community Management in the Pacific Northwest’, Sustainability, 13(4), p. 1937. doi: 10.3390/su13041937.

Dentzman, K., Gunderson, R. and Jussaume, R. (2016) ‘Techno-optimism as a barrier to overcoming herbicide resistance: Comparing farmer perceptions of the future potential of herbicides’, Journal of Rural Studies, 48, pp. 22–32. doi: 10.1016/j.jrurstud.2016.09.006.

Dentzman, K. and Jussaume, R. (2017) ‘The Ideology of U.S. Agriculture: How Are Integrated Management Approaches Envisioned?’, Society and Natural Resources, 30(11), pp. 1311–1327. doi: 10.1080/08941920.2017.1295498.

Giller, K. E. et al. (2021) ‘Regenerative Agriculture: An agronomic perspective’, Outlook on Agriculture, 50(1), pp. 13–25. doi: 10.1177/0030727021998063.

Jussaume, R. A. et al. (2021) ‘Factors That Influence On-Farm Decision-Making: Evidence from Weed Management’, Society and Natural Resources. doi: 10.1080/08941920.2021.2001123.

Jussaume, R. A., Dentzman, K. and Owen, M. D. K. (2019) ‘Producers, Weeds, and Society’, Journal of Integrated Pest Management, 10(1), pp. 1–6. doi: 10.1093/jipm/pmy017.

Park, B. et al. (2022) ‘Payments from agricultural conservation programs and cover crop adoption’, Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, (February), pp. 1–24. doi: 10.1002/aepp.13248.

Rosenzweig, S. T., Carolan, M. S. and Schipanski, M. E. (2019) ‘A Dryland Cropping Revolution? Linking an Emerging Soil Health Paradigm with Shifting Social Fields among Wheat Growers of the High Plains’, Rural Sociology. doi: 10.1111/ruso.12304.

Thompson, C. D. et al. (2022) ‘Improving sustainable agriculture promotion: an explorative analysis of NRCS assistance programs and farmer perspectives’, International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, pp. 1–21. doi: 10.1080/14735903.2022.2056997.

Wardropper, C. B. et al. (2022) ‘Applying a “fail-fast” approach to conservation in US agriculture’, Conservation Science and Practice. doi: 10.1111/csp2.619.

Knowledge Gained:


Over the course of this project, we gained a deeper understanding of the importance of federal and state policies and programs to encourage IWM practices. In the case of cover crops specifically, the primary expenses are tied to seed and planting costs. Cost share options to offset these expenses are offered through the USDA NRCS via the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). While almost all participants across both perspectives had at least some experience with cover crops, fewer eligible P1 participants had received funding for cover crop use or even expressed an interest in doing so. This may be explained partially by the influence of policy-factors on behavior.  

Firstly, funding options and amounts vary by state and county and are also subject to changes in state and federal policy over time. Cost-share amounts in certain years may be a catalyst for participation in these programs, and a disincentive in others (Bergtold et al. 2019; Thompson et al. 2022). Secondly, CSP and EQIP differ in their requirements, goals and associated technical support (Bergtold et al. 2019. One analysis of program effects on conservation practice adoption within the Corn Belt region of the US showed that mismatches between farmer goals and cost-share programs have been shown to actually reduce the area planted to cover crops (Park et al. 2022). Indeed, early bad experiences with these programs, and poor communication among farmers and NRCS staff, may stifle future participation (Wardropper et al. 2022). Thirdly, while cost-share payments within programs vary based on a set of farm-level and demographic factors, the actual outcomes of conservation practices are poorly documented, which may lead to negative perceptions about their use, specifically, and about federal and state governments, generally (Bergtold et al. 2019; Basche et al. 2020).  

Clearly, it is crucially important to maintain consistent federal and state funding for these programs, as well as clear lines of communication between farmers and NRCS personnel around goals and program specifics. Recent reviews of policy and sociological factors on conservation program adoption and use substantiate this point using examples from a litany case studies in the US (Bergtold et al. 2019). However, it is equally important to ensure that those receiving cost-share payments are also subject to some form of accountability. One clear example that avoids overly punitive measures is the tiered-cost-share payment approach currently utilized in the state of Maryland. In the 2022-2023 growing season, any farmer participating in a cover crop cost-share program receives a base rate ($45), this can be doubled ($90) if combined with practices such as no-till and drill-seeding, as well as early planting and later termination (Maryland Department of Agriculture, 2022). This highly incentivizes practices that would contribute positively to IWM efforts, and necessitates careful documentation of practices, planting and termination dates by farmers in order to maximize incentives.  

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.