Farmer preferences for a working wetlands program.
This study investigates a voluntary working wetlands pilot program (WWP) in the Prairie Pothole Region of North Dakota focusing on small, temporary and seasonal wetlands within croplands. Respondents agreed that participation in the program is very important, promotion of healthy ecosystems is part of their responsibility, the terms of the WWP are a good fit for their land in the long run, and conservation programs are effective. They strongly agreed that farmers should be compensated when their land use choices benefit the environment, and that land use decisions are their right as a land owner. Respondents disagreed that the conversion of wetlands must be stopped, wetland conservation should limit agricultural activities on private lands, there should be regulations to control the conservation of naturally-occurring wetlands to agricultural lands, and small wetlands benefit their operation. A choice experiment designed to consider hypothetical program attributes showed an increase in payment and absence of additional conservation production requirements in surrounding cropland increases the probability of enrollment. The parameter estimate for the length of contract attribute was negative indicating a preference for shorter contracts. Ranchers were more responsive to increases in payment rate than were farmers without cows. Production requirements of no-till, planting of cover crops, and planting of winter cereals each had a relatively large negative impact on likelihood to enroll in a hypothetical version of the WWP. The negative effect of the no-till requirement was moderated for those who already used no-till at least to some extent in their operation; the same was true for cover crops, as the negative effect of a cover crops production requirement was moderated for those who already planted cover crops. However, among farmers already planning no-till, the negative effect of a cover crops or winter cereals requirement was even greater. Farmers living on their farm and those with small and large farms and those using no-till in some part of their operation were more likely to enroll in the program. Farmers who one might define as more conservation-minded with regards to wetlands as defined as more strongly agreeing that small wetlands benefit their operation and that it is important to protect wetlands and those who would drain none of their wetlands or less than 25% if allowed to do so without penalty were less likely to enroll in the program. As expected, those that consider more important the effect of a program on water quality, those that identified the WWP program as a good fit for their operation in the long run, and those who were satisfied with the maintenance requirements of the WWP program were more likely to enroll. The importance placed on water quality had a moderating effect on the positive influence of payment on likelihood to enroll and on the negative influence of each of the three production requirements (no-till, cover crops, and winter cereals). Recommendations include: (1) Work to understand the decision-maker and his decision-making process; (2) New policy development should focus on policy options with a targeted approach; one where high payoff acres are targeted with effective conservation measures for those acres and where the employment of conservation practices are less likely. Addition of production requirements under a working lands program should be carefully considered because they may substantially reduce farmer interest; (3) Continue to educate farmers about conservation and the conservation options available to them; Find means to iv engage 'productivist farmers', those who are less inclined to adopt conservation practices if the benefits are not economically most efficient and benefits are largely off-farm; and (5) Consider a community approach to identifying and implementing conservation solutions.