Year of Publication



Martin School of Public Policy and Administration

Date Available


Executive Summary

The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) designs and promotes a wide variety of conservation practices and programs that enhance the environment by reducing soil erosion, improving water quality, and enhancing and creating wildlife habitat. The impact of these practices and programs is largely dependent on the voluntary participation of landowners. Thus, central to the success of the NRCS conservation programs is an understanding of the characteristics of landowners and operations participating in these programs.

Using operator and operation characteristics from the 1997, 2002, and 2007 Censuses of Agriculture and controlling for county fixed effects, this study 1) identifies significant characteristics of Kentucky agricultural operators and operations that participate in NRCS conservation programs, and 2) develops a ranking of Kentucky county effectiveness at encouraging NRCS conservation program participation. The examined NRCS conservation programs include the Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Programs, Farmable Wetlands Program, and Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. The Environmental Quality Incentive Program was not evaluated as the county-level data for this program were not included in the Censuses.

Multiple linear regression model results indicate that participation in NRCS conservation programs, when controlling for the fixed effects of the counties, is most closely linked to operations owned by the primary operator and those having Internet access. Operations with larger dairies and fewer conservation practices are more likely to participate. Counties with more poultry operations and fewer crop operations are also more likely to participate. While crop size is significant, its effect was negligible. With regards to county effectiveness at encouraging participation, the Purchase and Midwestern agriculture districts have much higher participation levels than predicted unlike the Bluegrass agriculture district where participation was much lower than predicted.

Based on study results, it is recommended that the NRCS adopt a two-pronged approach to increasing conservation program participation. First, the NRCS should look for ways to modify and/or develop new programs to target under-represented operations as the present focus is largely on croplands and wetlands which are abundant in the Purchase and Midwestern agriculture districts. Second, the NRCS should pursue new avenues of education and outreach. By partnering with land grant institutions, such as the University of Kentucky, the NRCS can work to develop demonstration sites to show-case the feasibility of conserving the environment in an effective and cost-efficient manner. Also, the effectiveness of the Internet in encouraging conservation program participation indicates that the NRCS should work with land grant institutions to develop electronic media in the form of factsheets, videos, webinars, and so forth that focus on conservation practices, but that traditional means of delivery should continue.



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