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

2012 Annual 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

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


1. 2012 Overview

Our project seeks to gain insight into how farmers in Indiana describe and value ecosystem services, including their willingness to change management practices for the express purpose of improving ecosystem services. In 2012, we interviewed 15 farmers about their knowledge of ecosystem services, surveyed 200+ farmers about their knowledge of ecosystem services, and then we presented the knowledge gained from these two efforts at an academic conference.

2. Planned Work in 2013

In 2013, we will refine preliminary data gathered from interviews and surveys and use the results to expand on central themes. We will accomplish this through the following tasks:

a. Published manuscript on interview and survey results
  • The goal of this publication is to showcase the results of this pilot study (given above). There was a lot of interest in the survey results presented at the ACES 2012 conference.
b. Focus Groups
  • Refine and test data gathered from interviews and survey. Will increased education about ES influence land management decisions? (If not, what other things do influence their decisions?) What potential hindrances might prevent farmers from taking advantage of current programs that pay them to adopt best management practices? How should we effectively convey ES concept to farmers? (i.e., what language and terms should we use/avoid?)
c. Farmer fact sheet (Extension publication)
  • Work with farmers to create a publication that can appropriately inform farmers about all of the ecosystem services on their land (besides food provision). Test the effectiveness of the publication at providing information about ES.

Objectives/Performance Targets

  1. Evaluate current farmer understanding of ecosystem services on their land, Educate farmers about ecosystem services so they are prepared to take advantage of current and future ecosystem markets to improve environmental impacts and profitability, and Relate this valuable knowledge to our own modeling of best management practices, perennial biofuel crops, and quantifying ecosystem services.

Note: As we began to explore the relationships between farmer knowledge of ecosystem services and practices implemented, the knowledge of information providers also appeared to be useful. We expanded the project to also evaluate Indiana Natural Resource Conservation Specialist (NRCS) employee understanding of ecosystem services in cooperation with the State Office.

Figure 1 shows the timeline and approach for this project.


1. Preparation for research
  • Received approval from the Institutional Review Board of Purdue University to conduct farmer interviews (approval received January, 2012), farmer surveys (approval received May, 2012), and NRCS surveys (approval received May, 2012). Conducted literature review on the cross-sections between social science, ecosystem services, and agriculture.
2. Farmer interviews
  • Created interview documents (Document 1) that were reviewed by supervising faculty, including an expert in human dimensions of conservation, Dr. Linda Prokopy, Associate Professor of Natural Resource Planning, in the department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University. Interviews focused on discussing and identifying all current conservation efforts in farmland, as well as interest in future conservation. Conducted a pre-test interview with a local farmer. Conducted thorough interviews (1-3+ hours) with 15 farmers in two watersheds not far from Purdue University. Transcribed verbatim all interviews. Coded the qualitative interview data for knowledge of a wide range of ecosystem services. Note: cost of conducting farmer interviews was covered by other funds.
3. Farmer survey
  • Drafted survey with assistance from supervising faculty, a professor in the Agricultural Economics Department at Purdue University, farm managers, and National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) – West Lafayette Office. Pre-tested survey with undergraduate students with farming backgrounds at Purdue Hardcopy of survey printed and distributed to 1,000 farmers across Indiana (with link to an online version) (Document 2) Results entered, compiled, and analyzed for farm surveys.
4. National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) survey
  • Survey nearly-identical to farmer survey was reviewed with Indiana State NRCS. Online survey was distributed to all Indiana NRCS employees (District Conservationists and Soil Conservationists) (Document 3). NRCS-returned survey analyses in progress.
5. Reporting of results
  • Preliminary results included in this report were presented at the 2012 conference for A Community on Ecosystem Services (ACES) in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. (Note: travel was sponsored by alternate funds) (Documents 4 and 5). The conference website is: http://www.conference.ifas.ufl.edu/aces/ Annual report completion. Fact sheet creation is in progress and will soon be distributed for SARE review.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Our work so far has focused on the first project objective: to evaluate farmer [and NRCS employee] understanding of ecosystem services.

1. Hypotheses Tested
  1. How familiar are farmers with the term “ecosystem services” (ES)? Even if farmers haven’t heard of ES, could they adequately describe ES? Do farmers recognize the “benefits proved by ecosystems” regardless of whether or not they know the term? Will certain types of services be more recognized or valued by farmers or NRCS employees? Are there “buzz words” used by academics that will translate poorly to farmers? (Will farmers consistently reject the term “regulation” as an appropriate service name?) Will farmers view themselves as more often responsible for maintaining one type of service over another (such as provisioning over cultural)? Will farmers who have participated in conservation programming be more likely to have heard of ES, and more likely to recognize and value ES? Are information providers such as the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) more likely to accurately define ES than the farmers sampled?
2. Variables Tested

In order to test our hypotheses, we identified independent and dependent variables:

a. Independent

Demographics (Age, Gender, Minority representation)
Exposure to conservation programming (number of programs, number of practices)
Type of production (commodity systems vs. specialized vs. diverse/integrated)
Owner/operator occupation
Size of farming operation
Number of years farmed
Spatial element: territories farmed within Indiana (NW, SW, etc.)

b. Dependent
  1. Knowledge of ES (e.g. have they heard of ES; do they accurately define ES; do they recognize that ES are provided by various ecosystems) Perceived benefits of ES Perceived responsibility for maintaining ES Perceived value of ES
3. Preliminary Outcomes

Based on farmer interviews and surveys, we draw two main conclusions:

a. Farmers appear to have some understanding of ES, whether or not they use the same vocabulary as academics.
  • Farmers generally have little knowledge of the term “ecosystem services.” Farmers talk about ES when asked about the benefits of conservation in agricultural lands, often without using the ES language that academics use. Farmers are able to recognize that many ES are derived from various landscapes (forest, reservoir, and cropland) and that ES provision varies with land use. Independent variables, such as participation in conservation programming, and the number of conservation practices used on their farm, do not appear to clearly correlate with farmer knowledge, recognition or value of ES.
b. There is an opportunity to engage farmers to improve ES on their lands
  • Survey results suggest that many farmers would be more willing to use conservation practices if they were shown that such efforts will improve ES on their farms.


Elizabeth Trybula

Graduate Student
Purdue University
225 S. University St.
West Lafayette, IN 47907
Office Phone: 5742293866
Dr. Indrajeet Chaubey

Purdue University
225 S. University St.
West Lafayette, IN 47907
Office Phone: 7654945013
Website: http://www.engineering.purdue.edu/ecohydrology
Dr. Jane Frankenberger

Purdue University
225 S. University St.
West Lafayette, IN 47907
Office Phone: 7654941194
Margaret Kalcic

Postdoctoral Fellow
University of Michigan
625 E. Liberty St., Suite 300
Ann Arbor, MI , IN 48104
Office Phone: 7347630716