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Federal funds help UD study how, why farmers participate in conservation

Courtesy: AgVISE
UD's AgVISE program paid to tear down abandoned poultry houses like this one, and gathered data on what kind of help farmers wanted to make it happen, in 2014.

The University of Delaware is trying to figure out how much local farmers are willing to chip in for eco-friendly upgrades to their land.

Their AgVISE program will dole out $100,000 to farmers who bid on how much of a grant they'd want to help plant runoff filter strips, or tear down out-of-use poultry houses.


Bids on what farmers want to do, and for how much, are due March 31. Farmers will also get $50 just for completing a survey saying they wouldn't want to participate.

UD professor Kent Messer says the USDA-funded effort has two goals:

"If we look at what a lot of USDA programs do in terms of conservation, they're just saying -- here's a price, take it or leave it," he says. "So one of our projects is really to understand more about which farmers are able to engage in conservation at different prices, and how do we best have those activities occurring on the land and hopefully helping the environment and the farmers along the way."

Messer, who comes from a farming family, says they're looking for a more "nuanced understanding" of what makes farmers want to participate -- be it type of land, type of enhancement or cost -- and "what prices would bring in other people."

In 2014, they gave out $40,000 and saw that most farmers wanted more help paying for conservation, rather than offering to spend a lot out of pocket.


He also said poultry house demolition was unexpectedly popular. The program will pay to remove derelict houses and restore the land they were on. Farmers can then put it back into crop production or set it aside as conservation land.

It's a more flexible model than, say, the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, co-funded by the USDA and DNREC. The CREP is suspended right now due to a lack of state funding, and no new farmers can be brought on board.


In an email, CREP administrator Bob Palmer says "things are looking favorable," with a line item in Gov. Jack Markell's proposed budget to replenish the CREP fund "at least for this year and last."


The program is the state's main means of meeting EPA goals for Chesapeake Bay clean-up. Marcia Fox is the state lead for that effort, and she says in an email that she's working on finding outside funding to support expiring CREP contracts, too.


Messer says he's not sure how their AgVISE bids -- due by the end of March -- will compare to CREP pricing this year. But if the program goes well again, he's hoping they might be able to take it national in future.


Farmers can expect to hear from UD with details on the program, or they can call Messer in UD's College of Agricultural and Natural Resources at 302-533-8285.


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