Building the evidence for financial and technical assistance

Many agri-environmental programs provide both financial assistance, like cost-share payments, and technical assistance, such as conservation planning. However, the impacts of these two types of assistance have not been well quantified. To generate credible evidence about the impacts of these programs, CBEAR is conducting randomized controlled trials to determine which approaches encourage landowners to participate in agri-environmental programs most cost-effectively. These studies test the cost-effectiveness of different levels of financial assistance as well as different approaches to planning and outreach. We also test to determine whether simpler application processes can deliver higher levels of program participation and landowners satisfaction. The results of these studies help federal and state stakeholders design their programs for the greatest possible levels of success. They can also help demonstrate to policy-makers and external funding sources the rigor by which public monies are being spent and how these approaches are part of a continual process designed for program improvement.


Building the evidence base for enhancing the persistence of conservation practices

Agri-environmental programs frequently provide landowners with short-term financial payments and technical support which are believed to induce long-term changes in conservation practices. But to date, little robust evidence exists on whether landowners continue to employ conservation practices after the technical support and financial payments end.

If landowners continue these practices after initial provision of these support cease, then these supports can be considered dramatically more cost-effective, because the public benefits will have occurred in subsequent years, even after the payments from the public have ended. CBEAR is engaged in research that uses administrative data and data collected remotely, such as from satellites, to better understand the causal factors that lead to the persistence of conservation practices such as cover crops. We are also working with stakeholders to test variations in program design, such as different lengths of support contracts and various payment structures, to identify cost-effective means for achieving greater persistence in the use of conservation practices.


Building the evidence base for environmental and economic benefits of input efficiency

Farming inputs, such as fertilizers and pesticides, can cause environmental and health impacts to both those who use them and those who live downstream or downwind of their use. To mitigate these impacts, various academics, companies, and government programs promote the adoption of input-efficient technologies. Frequently, these proponents claim these technologies also help the technology adopters by saving money, enhancing yields, or reducing risks. Nevertheless, in many cases, the limited existing evidence disagrees on whether input-efficient technologies actually deliver their promised environmental and economic benefits. For instance, new input-efficient technologies are often not implemented by the user as the proponents envisioned. Additionally, some technologies fail in field settings when facing a wider array of weather conditions and other challenges than were originally present in the lab setting. Finally, even with the adoption of some input-efficient technologies, their use is simply expanded to new areas and thus, in aggregate, levels of input use are not reduced and could even be increased.

To help build a better evidence base, CBEAR is collaborating with various partners to carefully understand the adoption of input-efficient technologies, tracking how they are used and whether or not they actually lead to overall reductions in input use. We also seek to understand the effect of technology adoption on producer satisfaction and profitability. 

Call for Collaborations

CBEAR welcomes the opportunity to collaborate with federal, regional and state administrators of agri-environmental programs. We have found the following conditions are favorable with regards to the application of the “test, learn, adapt” strategy:

The proposed program innovation is popular, or increasingly popular.

Why? The evidence about program impacts would have broad applications to similar contexts and programs.

Enough land units or people (typically more than 100) can be exposed to the program innovation.

Why? Larger samples allow us to more reliably detect a policy-relevant impact, should one exist.

Final outcomes, or important intermediate outcomes, can be observed. These outcomes should be relatively independent across units.

Why? These identifiable outcomes will allow us to measure policy-relevant impacts.

The end result?

Evidence-based program designs that achieve greater levels of voluntary participation, satisfaction with the programs, and improved environmental outcomes…all while reducing program costs.

“Working with CBEAR was an easy, low-cost way for NACD to improve our fundraising efforts in a way that we can replicate in the future. We’re excited to work with CBEAR so that we can continue to improve the services provided to our member districts.”

Kimberly Uldricks, Director of Membership
National Association of Conservation Districts
Kimberly Uldrich