Maria Boerngen, an Assistant Professor of Agribusiness at Illinois State University, is interested in understanding how farmers access information and how they use that information in decision-making. In Agricultural & Environmental Letters (https://doi.org/10.2134/ael2019.02.0004), Boerngen and co-author Benjamin Marks recently published results of a study focused on farmer perspectives on nutrient loss strategies in one Illinois county. This pilot project was in preparation for a larger survey, but the approach is relevant for understanding how farmers discover information in general. For example, how do farmers learn about new crop varieties or new equipment? Or, what makes an individual farmer decide to implement a new management practice?
This specific pilot study consisted of a telephone survey of 30 farmers, conducted in 2016–2017. The researchers wanted to determine if farmers were familiar with the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy, if farmers were concerned with nutrient loss, and if farmers were taking action to reduce N and P runoff. Released in 2015, the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy was developed by a group of researchers and other stakeholders. The document outlines goals for reducing nutrient loss from agricultural land, industry, and urban landscapes. In addition to setting these statewide reduction goals for reducing N and P loss to the Mississippi River, the strategy includes suggested best management practices.
The results of these interviews revealed farmers are concerned about nutrient loss, even if they are not aware of the particular details of the state plan. Of the 30 farmers interviewed, 14 indicated they were familiar with the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy. Boerngen says it was encouraging to find out that 19 of the 30 said that they were concerned about nutrient loss and had taken steps to reduce the nutrient loss from their farms. These farmers also stated in interviews that their trusted sources of knowledge included researchers and retailers, suggesting that opportunities for researchers to communicate with farmers through field events can resonate with this group.
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Professor Bullock, in conjunction with members of the team behind the recent NSF INFEWS application, submitted the following abstract for consideration in the upcoming INLRS Annual Workshop’s Research Showcase:
We propose to create an integrated FEW model and with user-friendly software to 1) enable individual farmers to examine the predicted economic and environmental impacts of their fertilizer management strategies, and 2) provide policy makers with a user-friendly tool in order to design policies that will lead to efficient reduction of N-nitrate contamination in the Mississippi River Basin. The model will be based on the ideal CyberGIS computation platform, and expand to the scale of the Mississippi River Basin the DSSAT crop growth model and the SWAT water drainage model. The model will also integrate the BioScope model of biomass supply, and a partial equilibrium economic model of crop, energy, and biomass markets in the U.S. Midwest and beyond. We argue that the principal shortcoming of current agricultural “Big Data” is that there is little record of variance in managed input use. Of course, managing inputs efficiently is the whole point of farm management, whether the goal is to increase monetary returns or environmental sustainability. Therefore, we propose to parameterize our integrated model with data we generate from large-scale, on-farm agronomic field trials over an entire small watershed. Those trials will randomize N application rates and cover-crop management strategies to measure both yield and water quality results of varying these managed input variables. We will use the generated data with existing agricultural “Big Data” to create “decision tool” software to improve private and public crop fertilization strategies. The proposed research will rely heavily on the proven abilities and infrastructure of the CyberGIS Center for Advanced Digital and Spatial Studies, and on the software, administrative capacity, and scientist-farmer relationships developed in an on-going USDA-NIFA Food Security project on data-intensive fertilizer management. In addition, we will provide opportunities for underrepresented undergraduates to gain research experience through an extension of the WE CAN program.