Identifying Factors that Influence Farmer and Rancher Decisions to Adopt and Manage Agroforestry Systems

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2022: $14,768.00
Projected End Date: 05/31/2024
Grant Recipient: University of Minnesota
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dean Current
University of Minnesota


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: agroforestry, alley cropping, forest farming, silvopasture, windbreaks
  • Natural Resources/Environment: riparian buffers

    Proposal abstract:

    Agroforestry, an agricultural system in which trees are cultivated alongside crops and/or livestock, has potential to introduce biodiversity, stabilize soil, sequester atmospheric carbon, and increase agroecosystem resiliency in Midwestern farms and ranches. Farmer and rancher adoption of agroforestry is a goal set by the United States Department of Agriculture, and agroforestry has support in the Midwest through Extension programs, NGOs, and more. Despite this, agroforestry is not common, so research is necessary to identify the factors that influence farmers’ and ranchers’ decisions to adopt agroforestry systems. As such, the title of this project is: “Identifying Factors that Influence Farmer and Rancher Decisions to Adopt and Manage Agroforestry Systems.”

    This project aims to: 1) better understand and publicize the economic, environmental, social, and political factors that constrain and facilitate agroforestry adoption among Midwest farmers and ranchers (the Learning Outcomes), and 2) increase the adoption of agroforestry systems among farmers and ranchers and improve outreach strategies to more effectively promote and implement agroforestry systems (the Action Outcomes). These outcomes are impactful for farmers and ranchers, as agroforestry can increase farm revenue and diversify income while producing socially and environmentally sustainable products. To evaluate the effectiveness of this project, follow-up surveys will be sent to natural resource professionals and farmers and ranchers six months after the outreach and original survey.

    The project outcomes will be framed within a systems approach, which focuses on the interactions between aspects of the system, including farmers and ranchers, natural resource professionals, profitability, natural resource policy, and more. This systems approach will manifest in a variety of methods. First, interviews will be conducted with two groups: farmers and ranchers that currently practice agroforestry and farmers and ranchers that do not practice agroforestry. By involving farmers and ranchers early in the research process, they will guide the focus of this project and identify the issues most important and relevant to them. With input from the interviews, a mail survey will be sent to farmers and ranchers in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois to understand their willingness to adopt agroforestry. A policy analysis will supplement the survey to determine the extent to which current relevant natural resource policies address the constraints and facilitators of agroforestry adoption identified by the research. Following the execution of these methods and analyses, outreach efforts with natural resource professionals and producers will be initiated to engage them in the achievement of the project outcomes.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The goal of this project is for more farmers and ranchers to adopt agroforestry systems. As with any innovation, though, agroforestry establishment takes time, as farmers and ranchers must research the systems, plan their implementation, and receive input from experts before planting trees. It is impractical to assume that farmers and ranchers will immediately begin planting trees once they know it is profitable and environmentally sustainable, making it difficult to definitively measure agroforestry adoption within the project timeframe. It is also impractical to assume that natural resource professionals (Extension personnel, government agency specialists, etc.) can assist farmers and ranchers with these systems without understanding producers’ opinions, motivations, and attitudes toward them. As such, the short-term goals for this project constitute the Learning Outcomes: 1) Farmers and ranchers will be better prepared to evaluate agroforestry options; 2) Farmers, ranchers, and landowner organizations will better understand agroforestry systems and their constraints and opportunities; and 3) Natural resource professionals will better understand constraints and facilitators of agroforestry adoption among farmers and ranchers. Though farmers and ranchers will not adopt agroforestry immediately, their outlook on agroforestry can be used as a proxy for future adoption, and natural resource professionals can support farmers and ranchers in implementation. Subsequently, the Action Outcomes include: 1) 20% of farmers and ranchers surveyed will consider agroforestry options for their production systems; and 2) 75% of natural resource organizations contacted will use the information to design and improve their outreach and promotion strategies for agroforestry among farmers and ranchers.

    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.