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

Project Overview

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

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Agronomic: corn, soybeans


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: decision support system, focus group
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning
  • Natural Resources/Environment: afforestation, biodiversity, grass waterways, habitat enhancement, indicators, riparian buffers, riverbank protection, soil stabilization, wetlands, wildlife
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management
  • Sustainable Communities: public policy, social capital

    Proposal abstract:

    Ecosystem services, or the benefits society receives from ecosystems, are quite sensitive to changing land use. In the US Midwest, many services have been lost, or traded, for the single service of food production. While food (and increasingly, energy) production are critical for humans, it may be possible to maintain and even increase farm profitability while protecting vulnerable ecosystem services. Yet producers, who have the most control over land management practices and the greatest effect on ecosystem services, may not understand the services or the opportunities for profitability that are and will increasingly become available to them. Therefore, this work seeks to gain insight into the current knowledge of farmers in Indiana, as well as their willingness to change their land management decisions to improve these services. The three major goals of this work include: 1) evaluating current farmer understanding of ecosystem services on their land, 2) educating farmers about ecosystem services so they are prepared to take advantage of current and future ecosystem markets to improve environmental impacts and profitability, 3) relating this valuable knowledge to our own modeling of best management practices, perennial biofuel crops, and quantifying ecosystem services. We will conduct surveys and focus groups with farmers in a number of watersheds where collaborative work is already taking place. We will seek to understand current farmers’ knowledge of ecosystem services, the potential hindrances that prevent farmers from taking advantage of current programs that pay them to adopt best management practices, and methods for effectively conveying relevant ecosystem services and land management scenarios to farmers and modelers.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    In this work we seek to gain insight into the current familiarity and knowledge of Corn-belt farmers about ecosystem services, and particularly how they understand the value of the land they cultivate. Our study will take place in three major Indiana watersheds where large collaborative research projects are already taking place, so results will have even greater impact. We will conduct surveys and focus groups to gather information on farmers in these watersheds. Short-term outcomes of this work are 1) to identify knowledge gaps in farmer understanding of ecosystem services and 2) to develop a shared environmental and economic language for effectively communicating about ecosystem services to farmers. Intermediate (end of project) outcomes include 1) development of an Online Ecosystem Services Reference, a resource for farmers and extension specialists to learn about ecosystem services, 2) an extension publication (hardcopy and e-version for broad distribution), tentatively titled “What’s the Real Value of Your Farm?”, 3) professional (non-academic) conference presentations of the project (e.g. Association of Soil and Water Conservation District), 4) an academic white paper, describing the process, results, and future suggestions, 5) Academic conference presentations summarizing results to a broad community, including modelers of ecosystem services, and 6) Enhanced impact and breadth of our PhD research. Long-term (beyond project) outcomes are that farmers would have improved understanding of the true value of ecosystem services, take advantage of opportunities to protect environmental quality while earning profit on their land, and that the disconnect that exists between farmers/stakeholders and modelers would be replaced by common ground and better understanding of practical solutions to protecting ecosystem services.

    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.