Understanding Farmer Decision Making in Performance-Based PES Programs through the Vermont Pay for Phosphorus Program

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2022: $29,934.00
Projected End Date: 07/31/2024
Grant Recipient: University of Vermont
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Dr. Travis Reynolds
University of Vermont


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: focus group
  • Natural Resources/Environment: drift/runoff buffers, other
  • Soil Management: other, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    The state of Vermont has long been a national leader in the development and implementation of programs aimed at addressing sustainability within its food and agricultural system. In recent years, such efforts have taken the form of various payments for ecosystem service programs, which aim to incentivize the use of sustainable practices on farms through various mechanisms, including financial compensation. The Vermont Pay for Phosphorus (PfP) program is the latest of these efforts. It provides payments to farmers for reducing phosphorus runoff from farms with the goal of alleviating a number of ecological concerns, especially soil health and water quality, among others. What is unique about the PfP program is that, rather than being practice-based, it is performance-based, meaning farmers have the flexibility to implement conservation practices they know will work for their own operations. Additionally, this large program is in its infancy and will being to be implemented later this year. Such timing provides a crucial window for collecting vital baseline data that can inform a number of additional research efforts in the coming years and as the PfP project takes shape.

    This proposal aims to obtain funding to do just that. With funding from SARE, this project will conduct interviews with the 60 farmers currently enrolled in the program to gauge attitudes, motivations, and expectations surrounding their participation. In addition, this funding will pr

    Project objectives from proposal:

    In this project, the question we will answer is how motivations, concerns, and decision-making vary between the different types of producers currently enrolled in the Vermont Pay for Phosphorus program as well as between farms of different sizes (both in acreage and income). The objectives of this project are as follows:

    • Conduct semi-structured interviews and farm visits with producers enrolled in the VT PfP program to gather data on farmer perspectives and perceptions of the program.
    • Develop an understanding of the motivations, concerns, and decision-making of different types of producers as it relates to PES programs, generally, and the VT PfP program, specifically.
    • Conduct focus groups with different types of producers to communicate interview findings and facilitate critical discussion.
    • Communicate findings from interviews and focus groups to relevant agencies, producers, and partners.

    It is anticipated that these methods will produce a detailed understanding of the factors that influence farmer decisions regarding enrollment in PES programs. Not only will this provide vital baseline data to inform the direction of the PfP program over the next 5 years, but it will also help inform the development of future PES programs within the state to better support both ecosystems and farmers.


    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.