Natural Resource Conservation in Agricultural Landscapes: Challenges and Opportunties (Part II) (hosted by TWS)

Symposium
ROOM: RSCC, D4
SESSION NUMBER: 8186
 
Agriculture is a major industry in North America ranging from row crop to livestock production. By 2050, the world’s population is expected to reach 9.7 billion people resulting in increased agriculture intensification to meet this nutritional demand. Increased climate variability is also expected to affect water availability, nutrient uptake in plants, pest occurrences, and plant diseases. Additionally, U.S. net farm income is down 12% in 2018 from the previous year. These challenges for increased food production, environmental protection, climate variability, and economic uncertainty require innovative solutions to achieve sustainable agroecosystems. Therefore, we (natural resource professionals) must engage with a variety of stakeholders to maximize biodiversity and agricultural production to meet current and future demands. Presentations will focus on historical and current science within various agricultural systems including direct and indirect effects of agriculture on our natural resources. Additionally, presentations/discussions will focus on innovative solutions and partnerships to achieve sustainable agroecosystems in the 21st Century. This symposium will include two parts over two days.  The second part/day of this symposium will include presentations on policies, partnerships, and innovations that may lead to improved conservation of wildlife and fisheries.  Both days of the symposium will include discussions relevant to the day’s topics.

8:00AM Behavioral Insights for Private Lands Conservation Persistence in Agricultural Landscapes
  Kenneth Wallen, Taylor Linder, Douglas Osborne, Scott Manley
Private lands conservation programs in agricultural landscapes often use financial incentives to motivate producers to enact voluntary conservation practices. One such program is the Rice Stewardship Program (RSP), an initiative led by USA Rice and Ducks Unlimited and administered through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). Like other agricultural conservation programs, RSP producers are provided a financial incentive to implement practices designed to conserve water, soil and establish wildlife habitat. However, after expiration of a (note NRCS does not like the words cost-share) conservation contract, the persistence of practices can vary. This study sought to identify motivations and barriers to the initiation and persistence of agricultural conservation practices, inclusive of financial incentives. Though research has examined agricultural conservation practice persistence, this is the first investigation conducted in the context of rice agriculture in the southern United States using qualitative methods. A census of the first RSP cohort in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi was conducted (N=51). A semi-structured interview protocol was designed to understand participants’ motivations and barriers to (dis)continue water, nutrient, and wildlife practices using Rogers’ five attributes of innovation framework: relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability, and observability. Content analysis revealed the significance of financial incentives for program enrollment and initial implementation. Yet, among most participants, observability, compatibility, and complexity were more strongly associated with persistence. Though findings align with previous research demonstrating the necessity of financial incentives, farmers also strongly consider if they can see the benefits of a practice, if that practice is easy to start and maintain, and if it aligns with their current or prospective practices.
8:20AM Back to By-Products: Promises and Opportunities for Layering Benefits of Water-Resource Conservation to Restore Farmland Wildlife in the Corn Belt
  Adam Janke
It’s accepted lore that wildlife were once a by-product of Midwestern diverse agricultural system comprising pasture, small grains, corn, and myriad natural areas that created space for wildlife to thrive. Today however, decades of intensification of row-crop production have reduced spaces for wildlife, leading to widespread declines in once common farmland wildlife and previously rare species alike. In general, the same factors that precipitated declines in many Midwestern wildlife are the same that create unique challenges for modern production systems to conserve clean water and healthy soil. At this intersection lies a clear opportunity. I will explore the literature of wildlife habitat responses to farmland conservation efforts that target water quality and soil health improvements and discuss how a future that conserves soil and water is also one that restores many wildlife species to their status as beneficiaries – or by products—of the production system. Research shows that strategic restoration of natural ecosystems in rural and urban landscapes improves water quality and can simultaneously provide habitat needed to reverse wildlife population declines. Increased wildlife populations in rural landscapes improves quality of life and offers opportunities for diversification of rural incomes through tourism, all secondary benefits of measures taken to improve water resource conservation in the Corn Belt. This movement back towards making wildlife a by-product of the agricultural production system through strategic integration of natural ecosystems is the best hope in a generation for meaningful landscape change with universal positive outcomes for land, water, wildlife, and people.
8:40AM Agroforestry: Perennial Crops for Soil, Water, Wildlife, and Profit
  Hannah Hemmelgarn
Agroforestry is the intentional integration of woody perennial and ideally native plants in intensively managed interaction with other agricultural crops or livestock systems. When appropriately implemented, agroforestry practices such as alley cropping, silvopasture, forest farming, riparian and upland buffers, and windbreaks can improve overall farm health. Specifically, reduced soil erosion, increased carbon sequestration, improved water quality and wildlife habitat have all been documented outcomes of the addition of trees and shrubs into agricultural systems. But this added complexity is not limited to conservation benefits; farmers can also make a profit from the specialty crops and livestock associated with agroforestry installations. Among the many perennial crops that can be harvested for human use in temperate North America, some are becoming better known, more marketable and profitable, including: pawpaw (Asimina triloba), elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), chestnut (Castanea mollissima), and a variety of culinary and medicinal mushrooms and forest plans such as shiitake (Lentinula edodes) and lions mane (Hericium erinaceus), ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and ramps (Allium tricoccum). Diversification ultimately contributes to economic and ecological resilience; however, long-term planning and land access is essential for crops whose yield is not consistent until three or more years after planting, which may limit acceptance. A review of recent research on natural resource conservation in agroforestry and relevant applications for farmers will be presented.
9:00AM Elephant Friendly Tea: An Example of a Wildlife Science-Based Commercial Incentive Program to Save an Endangered Species
  Lisa Mills, L. Scott Mills
In the U.S. alone, >84 billion servings of tea are consumed per year, totaling $12.5 billion in annual sales. Few consumers realize that tea contributes to mortalities of Asian elephants, driving them towards extinction in the wild. Building on our applied population ecology research and local outreach in the India-Bhutan region, we have: a) identified tea production practices that drive elephant mortality; b) identified specific actions to reverse those impacts; c) and incentivized those conservation-relevant tea farming practices through a novel “Elephant Friendly Tea” (EFT) Certification initiative. Tea producers who implement EFT actions receive access to expanded market opportunities for their tea, which is then sold under a Certified EFT logo; in turn, global tea consumers have a direct opportunity to support science-based elephant conservation with every cup of tea. We expect EFT to be game-changing for arresting the decline of Asian elephants because — unlike traditional conservation approaches — it both implements incentive-based conservation actions on and around the private agricultural lands where most elephants are killed, and it will generate funding to invest into research and conservation actions across the elephant’s range. Critical partners to development of EFT include tea producers and their associated communities, the non-profit certification group the Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network, and the University of Montana (who will manage the “EFT Elephant Research and Conservation Fund” generated from EFT sales). We believe this model has great potential to address seemingly intractable conservation problems for a wider range of species and locations by developing meaningful win-win wildlife-friendly enterprises.
9:20AM The 2018 Farm Bill: Opportunities and Challenges for Private Land Conservation in Agricultural Landscapes
  Eric Zach
Conservation programs authorized through the 2018 Agriculture Improvement Act, more commonly known as the Farm Bill, are important to fish, wildlife and their habitats. These programs are the most widely utilized and recognized set of tools for implementing voluntary incentive based conservation on private farm, ranch, and forest lands. With approximately 60 percent of the United States and up to 98 percent of some states in private ownership, species are highly dependent on private lands. In 2020, the combined budget for the five largest Farm Bill conservation programs will reach $7.2 billion and impact millions of acres. This diverse array of working lands and land retirement programs administered by the United States Department of Agriculture have evolved over several decades and Farm Bill iterations. The 2018 Farm Bill presents opportunities (increased funding and flexibility) and challenges (new rules and processes) for private land practitioners, landowners, and the species and habitats that reside on private lands.
09:40AM Break
10:10AM Role of Precision Agriculture in Nutrient Stewardship and Conservation: An Industry Perspective
  Adam Jones
Stewardship of agricultural inputs is critically important in modern agriculture both in cost savings for the grower and in environmental benefit. The 4 R’s of nutrient stewardship are critical in the minimization of runoff and leaching from agricultural lands. Right source, right rate, right time, and right place allow for top crop yields and reduced over fertilization. Learn how MFA Incorporated, a Midwest member-owned agricultural retailer, has developed a program and a team of agronomists who recognize the importance of nutrient stewardship and on farm conservation practices. Through partnerships MFA has bridged the gap between private industry, USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service, and the state wildlife agency in utilizing the amount of data analyzed in precision agriculture to provide consultant services for cost share programs. Broadening the understanding and knowledge base of all organizations involved significantly increases chances for success in improving source water protections and wildlife habitat on working lands in Missouri. This partnership also leads to better information sharing back to federal and state agencies regarding feasibility of implementation for programs, practices, and payment rates.
10:30AM Integrating Precision Agriculture Technology to Deliver Targeted Conservation Enrollment
  Mark McConnell, Nick Meng, L. Wes Burger
Precision agriculture is an emerging technology in agricultural production that has largely undeveloped implications in conservation planning. Agricultural landscapes dominate the landscape and subsequently have impacts on numerous wildlife populations. Converting agricultural areas to conservation friendly vegetative cover comes with opportunity costs associated with lost revenue from crop production. Agricultural producers require financial incentives to convert land from production to conservation. Unfortunately the economic outcomes of conservation practices are rarely quantified. Precision agriculture tools such as yield monitors equipped with global positioning systems quantify the spatial variability in crop yield and profitability. Integrating this technology with Farm Bill conservation practices that offer payments in exchange for wildlife-friendly land use can increase wildlife populations and field-level profitability. We demonstrate the application of this approach using a geospatial decision support tool that illustrates Farm Bill conservation practice eligibility and compares economic outcomes of conservation enrollment. We also present results from a case study from 52 fields in Lowndes County, Mississippi where we simulated three scenarios of agricultural production: maximum crop production (no conservation), maximum conservation, and targeted conservation (conservation only where it increases profitability). Targeted conservation increased profitability on 37 of 52 fields (71%). Of these 37 fields, the average whole field profitability of row crop agriculture was $316.50 per hectare. Maximum conservation enrollment was $279.59 per hectare and targeted conservation enrollment was $352.12 per hectare. There was an average increase in profitability of 23.77% from row crop agriculture to targeted conservation. These results show that conservation can be profitable by targeting low yielding areas in a field and establishing long term conservation practices on the landscape. We recommend natural resource managers incorporate economic outcomes of conservation actions in agricultural landscapes by adopting precision agriculture technology and decision support tools.
10:50AM Natural Resource Conservation in Agricultural Landscapes: Delivering Multifunctional Landscapes
  L. Wes Burger
Agricultural production dominates private land use and landcover across much of the contiguous lower 48 states. These agricultural landscapes are essential to achieving the goals of national conservation initiatives such as the Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, the Sage Grouse Initiative, and the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. Effective conservation delivery in agricultural landscapes requires: 1) an understanding of landowner priorities and ownership objectives, 2) knowledge of the economic and environmental costs and benefits of conservation, and 3) natural resource professionals who understand the business of agricultural as well as the principles of habitat management and wildlife conservation. We make the case for a new vision of working, multi-functional landscapes that include designed components of natural and semi-natural non-crop perennial plant communities (wetlands, grasslands, riparian areas, field margins, etc) embedded in a matrix of rowcrop, pasture, rangeland, and forested working lands that produce sustainable food, fiber and fuel. To attain this vision will require a cultural shift among producers in the view of these elements, not as unproductive marginal lands, but instead as essential components of agroecosystems that produce vital environmental goods and services that enrich the overall agricultural system and contribute to its productivity and sustainability. Additionally, it will require a societal commitment to recognize the economic asymmetry associated with producing societal benefits at a private cost and development of market-driven, voluntary solutions to provide just compensation to private producers of these public benefits. Producing sustainable, multifunctional landscapes will require effective conservation delivery that is intentional, objective-driven, targeted, science-based and landscape-scale. We contend that it will also require a new kind of natural resource professional. We consider the specific and novel skill sets that will be required among natural resource professionals to deliver conservation to private owners/producers of working lands.
11:10AM Panel Discussion
 

 
Organizers: Andy Little, Summer Higdon, Melissa Wuellner
 
Supported by: TWS–Biological Diversity Working Group, AFS–Water Quality Section, AFS–Fish Management Section, AFS–Fish Habitat Section, AFS–North Central Division

Symposium
Location: Reno-Sparks CC Date: October 1, 2019 Time: 8:00 am - 11:50 am