During ISAP’s first convening of Alphabet Soup in 2022, over 60 conservation professionals, farmers, government agents, researchers, and industry representatives came together to talk about how behavioral science impacts their work in advancing conservation. Using eight cognitive biases that were identified in the Sand County Foundation report, “Making Conservation Conventional,” attendees participated in an interactive, task-oriented workshop which created opportunities to share experiences, identify cognitive biases they’ve encountered in their work, and develop new approaches to advancing conservation in agriculture.
Participants were assigned to breakout groups based on their role in agriculture (farmers, researchers, nonprofits, industry, government and extension, and conservation districts) to allow for sector-specific discussions on challenges and opportunities. Once the groups identified which cognitive biases most hinder their work to advance conservation principles, participants developed action plans to overcome these burdens. While each action plan was developed to address the unique experiences related to the groups’ roles in agriculture, the plans all included proposals to improve connection, education, and communication within the agricultural community:
Support the development of farmer peer networks to connect beginning conservation farmers with early adopters, creating opportunities for farmers to learn from one another, build community, and gain access to a system of support and accountability. Farmers in the same geographical location have common goals and challenges, enhancing their shared commitment to improving local water ways and supporting profitability in their local communities. Creating connection and encouraging regular meetings will support engagement from farmers and allow them to build trust with their peers.
Create educational resources to provide clear, specific, and accessible information on how farmers can integrate conservation practices into their operation. Educational materials could include step-by-step guidance on the implementation of a practice and all the decision points, critical issues, and development over several years. Locally-specific resources were also identified as a need including information on local soil types, specific cropping rotations, and logistical details of implementation in a specific area (i.e., seed type, where to get it, when to plant it, seeding application, etc.).
Improve communication with landowners on the importance of conservation and how land lease structures can support or hinder a farmer’s ability to adopt a conservation cropping system on their land. Landowners may be generationally removed from what is happening on the farm and lack a strong understanding of how they can support conservation practices. Effectively communicating the importance of alternative lease structures to landowners could have significant impacts on farmers’ ability to adopt conservation practices on their farm.
ISAP’s Alphabet Soup, a network of agronomists, researchers, educators, conservation practitioners, and industry partners in Illinois, will continue to explore current issues, discuss strategies, and build collective capacity to advance nutrient loss reduction and conservation practices in Illinois agriculture. To get involved and hear about upcoming Alphabet Soup gatherings, please visit our Network of Practitioners webpage to join the Alphabet Soup mailing list.