Scaling up to address new challenges to conservation on US farmland

Diana Stuart, Sean Gillon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


Land used for agricultural production comprises a significant portion of the United States (US) land area and is increasingly the focus of conservation efforts. These efforts include programs to protect and improve the quality of water, soil, and wildlife habitat. Government conservation efforts in the US focus on voluntary conservation programs. As the success of these programs depends on the participation of agricultural producers, much research has examined factors influencing producer decision-making. This research has provided important insights regarding micro and meso-scale factors influencing participation, but has tended to overlook macro-scale political and economic factors that increasingly shape production decisions. We argue that researchers examining producer decision making need to scale up their analysis to include macro-scale factors, which pose increasing challenges to conservation efforts. We use two case studies, in California and Iowa, to illustrate scenarios where policy and market changes have led to a significant loss of participation in conservation efforts. Quantitative and qualitative methods were used in each case to examine how new political and economic conditions influence producer decision-making regarding conservation. In both cases new policies conflict with federal conservation initiatives, creating situations where producers feel they must abandon conservation practices. The emergence of these macro-scale challenges highlights the vulnerability of current voluntary approaches and indicates that alternative policy tools need to be explored. This discussion deserves immediate attention, given current proposals to cut funding for US conservation programs. New policy combinations should be explored that can effectively sustain producer participation in conservation efforts despite changes in policy and market conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)223-236
Number of pages14
JournalLand Use Policy
StatePublished - Mar 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Agriculture
  • Conservation
  • Scale
  • Voluntary programs
  • Water quality
  • Wildlife

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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