Decoding Iowa Farmers’ Understanding of Edge-of-Field Practices

Xiaolan Wan, Jacqueline Comito, Wendong Zhang
February 2024  [24-PB 41]

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Suggested citation:

Wan, X., J. Comito, and W. Zhang. 2024. "Decoding Iowa Farmers’ Understanding of Edge-of-Field Practices." Policy brief 24-PB 41. Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, Iowa State University.

Executive Summary

Conservation practices play a vital role in sustainable agricultural production and maintaining a healthy ecosystem by fundamentally improving soil health, enhancing water quality, preserving biodiversity, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Edge-of-field (EOF) practices—such as saturated buffers, bioreactors, and water quality enhancement wetlands—can significantly improve water quality by reducing nutrient loads and enhancing wildlife habitat.

However, these key EOF practices have been remarkably underutilized even though they can effectively reduce nutrient delivery (Iowa Learning Farms 2022). The low adoption rate can be attributed to a lack of understanding of these new practices and a history with draining wetlands. As these structural practices are often novel and rooted in recent scientific advancements, a lack of familiarity and clear comprehension of how they function can create uncertainty and reluctance to implement them. This study aims to gain insights into landowners' and farmers' perceptions of EOF practices, assess the environmental benefits they perceive these practices offer, pinpoint obstacles hindering the adoption of these practices, and help stakeholders attune and refine educational strategies in extension and outreach activities to facilitate broader adoption.

In collaboration with ISU’s Center for Survey Statistics and Methodology, we conducted two rounds of surveys among Iowa landowners and farmers across five different HUC-8 watersheds in the Des Moines Lobe. We initiated an online survey in August 2022 (Round 1), and a follow-up mixed-mode survey (online and paper) the following summer, in July 2023 (Round 2). Round 2 of the survey was primarily administered through the mail, but also offered an online option. We received a total of 668 completed surveys in Round 1, generating a response rate of 16%. In Round 2, we received 360 completed surveys, resulting in a response rate of 25%. The main difference is that Round 2 included both online and mail surveys, which allowed for a wider range of participants, thus leading to a higher response rate.