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Optimizing Funding Sources Utilizing Farmer and Landowner Personality Considerations

I’ve been the Watershed Coordinator for the Big Pine Creek, located in North Central Indiana, for seven years. Since beginning this work in 2016, we’ve been fortunate to acquire over seven million dollars of both public and private cost-share and in-kind support. This funding focuses on support for farmers and landowners to implement conservation practices, such as cover crops and nutrient management.

The Big Pine Creek Watershed is a 209,000-acre area with a predominant land use of row-crop agriculture, and it has become a test bed for piloting funding sources and unordinary partnerships to improve water quality. Throughout this project, we’ve learned through field-level observations how to best align funding options with farmer and landowner’s personality characteristics.

We have determined that matching the right type of funding to the farmer or landowner is important for their success.

Short-Term Public Funding

Short-term funding options have a small duration of commitment, most often a contract commitment of one year or less. This may include sources such as a 319 Grant or other state-funded grants managed by Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

We have found that participants best suited for these funds are individuals who are generally impatient with paperwork and overall conservation adoption results, are indecisive in their conservation decision making, or have commitment concerns as a whole. These funds also do well with retirement preppers, rookies with minimal conservation experience, and those with an imbalance in their operation’s management, such as time constraints, a lack of resources, and too many or too few employees.

Short-term funding seems to best align with these personality types by offering an opportunity to experiment with conservation without a long-term commitment, making it a more manageable experience for their adoption and management barriers.

Long-Term Public Funding

Long-term funding typically requires a commitment to conservation implementation for multiple years. This may include sources such as the Environmental Incentives Program (EQIP) or other USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) managed programs.

These funds seem to best appeal to participants who are patient, bored with their current farm practices, or have lengthy experience in conservation and other cost-share programs. Other good matches include individuals with excellent farm management, those with small manageable acreage, and those who are naturally progressive and systematic thinkers.

Long-term funding seems to best fit with these individuals because their prior experience in conservation and contract management sets them up well for a longer commitment that typically has a larger process to manage.

Private Funding

Private funding does not come from any kind of public or governmental funds. Examples include donated funds from corporate sponsors such as Coca-Cola or General Mills. Often these sponsors have weight in a project, such as a company that sources its product from a specific watershed. Therefore, they have a vested interest in the conservation and water quality outcomes.

Participants that are best suited for these funds include individuals with limited time availability, resource constraints, and trouble communicating. They are also a good fit for those with governmental trust issues or who have had negative prior experience with public programs.

This type of funding best suites these personality types as private funding is flexible and simple, and it offers an opportunity for assistance without any governmental financial backing. The process involved with private funding is the easiest to manage for both the participant and the organization acting as the funding administrator.

In the case of the Big Pine Creek Watershed, our field experience has demonstrated that to maximize cost-share effectiveness, it’s optimal to have options of short term, long term, and private funding sources; although, private funding is the simplest type of funding to manage from a coordinating perspective.

This personality-funding framework has helped us work more efficiently with farmers and landowners and assisted in securing over 30,000 acres of cover crops and a reduction of 298,812 pounds of nitrogen, 150,328 pounds of phosphorus, and 113,556 tons of sediment from entering local water bodies.

Header photo courtesy Brooke Sauter for Benton County Soil and Water Conservation District

About the Author

Leslie Fisher is a resource conservation specialist and the Big Pine Creek Watershed Coordinator for Benton County, Indiana Soil and Water Conservation District. She works with several partners to continuously trial creative ways to change the culture of conservation adoption. She has led the Big Pine Creek Watershed Project, the 2022 winner of the Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award in Land Use and Conservation, since 2016. Leslie also received the honor of being 2021’s Field to Market Conservation Advisor Award Winner. When not working with farmers, Leslie spends her time recreating in the Big Pine and running a small livestock farm with her family.