Saturday, August 9, 2014

BMPs and BFFs

This summer, I surveyed Wisconsin farmers to understand trends in BMP adoption by capturing the economic landscape of Wisconsin farms. Best Management Practices (BMPs) are ecologically sensitive alternatives to conventional farming practices. Soil loss and declining soil health are of heightening concern to Wisconsin farmers, policymakers, and citizens as these issues can be detrimental to profits and yields and can damage water quality through sedimentation and nutrient loading. BMPs can mitigate soil loss, but their effectiveness is still debated.

As I excavated through the massive piles of returned surveys and journeyed through the world of statistical software, I found answers to important questions:

1) Which incentives do farmers find to be effective in easing their transition to BMPs?

I found that farmers find technical help and education programs to be helpful incentives, along with the farmer-led councils that often provide these two incentives. The value placed on education and
Sharing some of my findings at the Tainter Menomin
Lake Improvement Association (TMLIA) meeting.
technical help is true for all farm types and sizes. On average, these incentives are more helpful than easement programs, tax breaks, and subsidies.

2) How interested are farmers in participating in education programs?

I determined that 23% of respondents have high interest in education, having mostly attended a variety of education programs. Likewise, 28% of respondents have medium interest in education, expressing interest in relevant education programs of all types as well as having participated in some education programs. Finally, 49% expressed low interest, being only interested in some or no education programs.

3) To what extent are farmers currently using BMPs?

This survey asked farmers about their use of conservation easements, crop rotation/cover crops, conservation tillage, waterway buffer zones, manure management, and fencing off livestock from waterways. I found that 45% of respondents are high adopters of BMPs, whereas only 33% are medium-level adopters and 22% are low adopters. This revealed that a large portion of farmers use a combination of various BMP options available.
Dan Prestebak, Dunn County Conservationist and friend
of LAKES REU, gives us a tour of his beautiful farm on our last day.

4) Which variables and factors influence adoption of BMPs?

I found that various factors have significant impact on a farmer’s level of BMP adoption. For each additional incentive a farmer uses, their BMP adoption increases by 3.2% and for each unit increase in the frequency of soil testing, BMP adoption increases by 7.2%.

Those farmers in younger age groups increase their BMP adoption by 6.1%. This means that younger farmers are more readily adopting BMPs. Also, farmers that have children have a BMP adoption rate that is 9.5% higher than that of farmers without children. This could be due to an investment and interest in future generations.

On average, the prospect of increased profits and yield in the long-run encourages farmers of all farm types to adopt BMPs, whereas current policies and capital costs are generally perceived to have a more negative than positive impact on BMP adoption, often hindering adoption.

Overall, I learned an immense amount about farmer BMP adoption, but most importantly, I learned about the importance of connecting with others. The connections made between citizens, policymakers, and farmers via our research is making a profound difference in this community. On a personal level, the friendships that have developed with the other students and our mentors are irreplaceable. Thank you to everybody for making this experience so meaningful.

An inspiring group of students with our spectacular mentors
all wearing what I call, our "cult shirts".

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