More than 1,000 Iowans were recently surveyed to learn more about their expectations for agriculture and concerns about environmental quality. The survey found that not only do Iowans support targeted approaches for multiple-benefit agriculture, they are willing to pay for it too.
The random sample survey was conducted by J. Gordon Arbuckle Jr. and John C. Tyndall, social scientists collaborating on the STRIPS project at Iowa State University. STRIPS stands for Science-based Trials of Row crops Integrated with Prairie Strips. The STRIPS project measures the impacts of strategically planting prairie strips in crop fields.
Results from the STRIPS plantings have shown that small amounts of prairie can yield disproportionate, multi-functional benefits to soils, watersheds, wildlife habitat and biodiversity. The multidisciplinary STRIPS research team conducted the survey to find out the extent to which Iowans were interested in this kind of paradigm shift toward conservation agriculture.
Two-thirds would support a shift to targeted conservation
Of the Iowans surveyed, 55% agreed that agriculture has some negative impacts on the environment, and two-thirds indicated they would support a shift toward a targeted conservation approach that would minimize these negative effects while also providing a range of benefits to agricultural landscapes.
The survey revealed that water-related benefits are Iowans' highest priority. Given a list of 15 items to rank on a 5-point scale ranging from "no priority" to "very high priority" for agricultural policy and programs, drinking water quality was the highest priority by a wide margin: 91% said it is a high or very high priority.
Protection of water quality for aquatic life, improving flood control, and protecting water quality for recreation are also top priorities. Iowans would also like to see agriculture provide benefits such as the creation of wildlife habitat, mitigation of climate change, and provision of opportunities for recreation, tourism and economic development.
Majority are willing to help pay for targeted conservation
Importantly, the survey results indicate Iowa taxpayers would be willing to pay an estimated $42 million per year over a period of 10 years to support the implementation of a hypothetical scenario in which targeted conservation approaches would be implemented to yield such diverse kinds of benefits while still producing food, feed and fuel.
The survey was conducted about one year after 63% of Iowa voters passed an amendment to the Iowa Constitution creating a Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. The amendment would dedicate a fraction of 1% of any future sales tax increase to create a stable funding source for addressing natural resource needs. The state has not increased sales tax since the 2010 referendum, however, so this trust fund does not yet have a dedicated source of funding. One primary objective of the survey was to measure Iowans' willingness to pay into such a fund.
Sixty-three percent of the survey respondents (the same proportion of Iowa voters that voted to create the trust fund) indicated they support a shift to a targeted conservation approach, and 89% of those who "voted" for the shift were willing to pay for it through methods like taxes, license plate fees or voluntary contributions.
Polls show most voters favor full funding of Iowa Trust Fund
The survey provided $10 amount options, ranging from $0 to $75 per year over 10 years. Half of the respondents were willing to pay $30 or more per year. In fact, at 21%, $75 was the most commonly selected amount, suggesting that many people would have selected even higher annual payments if they had been given the option.
"Our scenario was hypothetical, based loosely on the trust fund amendment," says Arbuckle. "In light of recent polling showing that most Iowans favor full funding of the Iowa Trust Fund, if our survey had been specifically about the Iowa Trust Fund, the willingness to pay would likely have been higher."
The results of this survey are summarized in a new report, "Iowans' Perspectives on Targeted Approaches for Multiple-Benefit Agriculture: Measuring Support for a Paradigm Shift in Agri-Environmental Policy," which can be found online. Also, you can learn more about the STRIPS project on the research team's website.