Using Policy Interventions to Boost Cover Crop Adoption in the Lake Erie Watershed
Industrial agriculture presents tremendous environmental challenges – from soil health to water quality to climate change – and more sustainable management practices are needed to reduce negative environmental consequences. Increasing plant diversity in agroecosystems through use of cover crops is a promising solution because they provide a host of ecosystem services and can help mitigate pollution. Despite their benefits, however, adoption of cover crops remains slow. This study seeks to better understand the complex, multiscalar factors that shape farmers’ management decisions and identify policy interventions to make cover cropping a more viable practice. This research asks:
1. What factors constrain or support cover crop adoption?
2. What is the role of policy in cover crop adoption currently?
3. How can policy be used as a tool to ameliorate constraining factors and better leverage supporting factors to increase cover crop adoption?
Using the snowball method, I identified cover crop farmers in Michigan and Ohio and conducted 20 semi-structured interviews with farmers of varying sizes and experience. Interviews were then transcribed and analyzed using NVivo.
The results indicate the cost share programs, administered both locally and federally, are critical to increasing adoption of cover crops. A major challenge with the programs, however, is that many farmers discontinue the practice once the cost share program ends and financial assistance stops. Farmers offered a wide range of suggestions to fix these problems, including 1) lengthening cost share contracts to enhance cover crop benefits, 2) changing the payment structure, which would enable distribution of funds to more farmers, and 3) reducing confusion and bureaucracy in the programs to eliminate enrollment barriers.
Erica Blair, MS (EPP)