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Landowner Conservation Attitudes and Behaviors: A Focus on the Conservation Reserve Program


  • Wachenheim, Cheryl J.


Today, the most widely-implemented land retirement program is the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), initiated with the passage of the Food Security Act of 1985 and reauthorized in all subsequent farm bills. It is a voluntary, long-term cropland diversion program under management of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Under contract, environmentally-sensitive land is voluntarily set aside in exchange for financial and technical assistance for ten or fifteen years. This paper investigates attitudes among Prairie Pothole Region landowners regarding conservation programs including the Conservation Reserve Program, factors important in conservation practice adoption and program participation decision making, and awareness of and participation in conservation programs. A strong majority of respondents supported landowner decision making on the use of private lands and compensation for choices benefiting the environment, and two-thirds agreed that current conservation programs are effective. Program-specific factors most important in the choice of conservation program participation included payment level and income guarantee. Maintenance requirements, ease of administration process, contract length and cost of converting land use were also considered important. Less important overall was land use flexibility, although this was important to those raising grazing livestock. Non-contract factors were also reported to be important including program effect on soil quality and erosion control, water quality, consistency with landowner views on land use, wildlife population, air quality, and weed pressure. Most respondents reported being satisfied with the CRP as it is currently employed, particularly the ease of administration, contract length, how rules are enforced, cost share, and maintenance requirements. Two-thirds reported being satisfied with permitted land-use options and 57% with the payment rate. Sixty-two percent of landowners agreed that practices required under the terms of CRP are a good fit for their land in the long run, although agreement was lower among livestock owners. Approximately half agreed that technical assistance provided by NRCS is adequate and that USDA requirements to enhance CRP covers to maintain long-term benefits to wildlife are reasonable. Only one-quarter of respondents agree that CRP rules are consistently enforced and that penalties for violations of CRP contract terms are excessive. Factors influencing attitudes include ownership of grazing livestock, participation in a conservation organization, CRP history, previous rejection of CRP contract bid, and working off farm. Thirteen percent of respondents with current CRP contracts would not re-enroll their land. Sixty-four percent would re-enroll all of their land or more. Among those that would not reenroll all land, the most common explanation for this was that they could earn better profits by growing crops. Thirty-eight percent of respondents have hayed or grazed their CRP-enrolled land during the last ten years. For the average respondent, the appropriate percentage reduction in annual payment if farmers were allowed to regularly graze or hay their CRP acres was 21.1%. Forty-two percent indicated a zero payment reduction was appropriate; 77% indicated a reduction of 25% or less.

Suggested Citation

  • Wachenheim, Cheryl J., 2019. "Landowner Conservation Attitudes and Behaviors: A Focus on the Conservation Reserve Program," AE Series 284163, North Dakota State University, Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:ags:nddaes:284163
    DOI: 10.22004/ag.econ.284163

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    Crop Production/Industries; Environmental Economics and Policy; Farm Management;

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