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Title:The design and implementation of multifunctional woody polycultures: Landowner preferences and pathways to improve agricultural conservation
Author(s):Stanek, Erik Christian
Advisor(s):Lovell, Sarah T.
Contributor(s):Reisner, Ann; Davis, Adam
Department / Program:Crop Sciences
Discipline:Crop Sciences
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Multifunctional agriculture
Landscape design
Landowner interview
Conservation programs
Perennial Cropping
Abstract:Land retirement has been the primary approach used by the federal government for environmental protection of agricultural landscapes since 1985, but it is increasingly being supplemented by conservation initiatives on working lands. The shift towards using conservation practices on working lands logically supports agroforestry and other multifunctional approaches as a means to combine production and conservation. However, such approaches can be complex and difficult to design, contributing to the limited adoption in the United States. Multifunctional woody polycultures (MWPs), a form of agroforestry, are one such option gaining interest in the U.S. Corn Belt for combining agricultural production and conservation benefits on working lands. Studies show landowners currently lack adequate information to make informed decisions regarding adoption of MWPs and researchers have yet to determine the preferred design of them. This study engaged with 15 rural landowners within the Upper Sangamon River Watershed of Central Illinois to identify the design preferences, information needs, and adoption potential of MWPs, as well as identify pathways for improving agricultural conservation programs. Landowner-specific designs were constructed based on three pre-defined alternative scenarios distinguished by their focus on (1) production, (2) conservation, or (3) cultural functions. Two semi-structured interviews occurring before and after the design process were conducted with landowners. We identified landowners’ preferred designs as those which integrated high levels of edible nuts and berries in an efficient, machine-harvestable manner. Nut-producing species native to the Midwest U.S., most notably northern pecan (Carya illinoinensis), were most preferred. The strongest motivators for the design and adoption of MWPs were utilizing high-value edible crops, improving pollinator and wildlife habitat, and the productive use of marginal land. However, these motivators were coupled with an expressed limitation in the practical application of MWPs due to a lack of harvest machinery, post-harvest processing facilities, and accessible markets. A lack of reliable economic, marketing, and management information severely constrains adoption potential of MWPs despite landowner interest for using them on marginal lands. Additionally, we used the design and interview process with landowners to understand pathways towards improving the integration of MWPs, more broadly agroforestry, into agricultural conservation programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). We found that landowners strongly preferred working in person and being presented a comparison of alternative designs, rather than a single option, especially for novel systems. Agroforestry was seen as a viable method of generating conservation benefits while providing value to the landowners, who each stated they were more inclined to adopt such practices irrespective of financial assistance to do so. For conservation programs, landowners suggested reducing the complexity, inflexibility, and impersonal nature of conservation programs to improve the integration of multifunctional practices that appeal directly to the practitioner’s needs and preferences. These findings are valuable for conservation policy because they complement previous research theory suggesting the value of working collaboratively with landowners in the design of multifunctional landscapes. Personalized solutions that are developed based on the unique characteristics of the local landscape and the preferences of the individual landowner may be retained beyond a specified payment period, rather than being converted back into annual crop production.
Issue Date:2018-07-03
Rights Information:Copyright 2018 Erik Stanek
Date Available in IDEALS:2018-09-27
Date Deposited:2018-08

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