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Maria Boerngen

Mentor Department



Nitrogen fertilizer runoff in the Mississippi River Basin has caused a hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Through efforts such as the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy, farmers are being challenged to voluntarily make production changes to limit the amount of nitrogen they lose from their fields through runoff. If these issues are not resolved through voluntary compliance, there is a possibility that policy actions may be taken that will require farmers to change their production practices. Best Management Practices (BMPs) currently recommended to reduce nutrient loss include cover crops, different application timing, bioreactors, wetlands, and buffers. However, the adoption of new or unfamiliar farming practices such as these BMPs is inherently risky for farmers. We have conducted a thorough review of the available literature on Best Management Practices, farmers' risk perception, and risk tolerance as we study ways to encourage on-farm decision making that will voluntarily reduce nutrient loss. With the help of nutrient loss experts at the Illinois Corn Growers Association (ICGA), we surveyed the membership of the ICGA. This survey helps us gain a more detailed understanding of how farmers view and are responding to concerns about nutrient loss, and their willingness to voluntarily comply with nutrient loss reduction goals. This group of individuals was chosen because they would be most affected by regulation limiting nitrogen timing or application. The survey was designed using the Internet, Phone, Mail, and Mixed-Mode Surveys: The Tailored Design Method handbook (Dillman, Smyth, and Christian, 2014). Questions addressed farmers' awareness of and concern for nutrient loss issues, implementation of BMPs, and demographic characteristics. We received 762 completed surveys. The majority of respondents (90.9%) believe that nutrient loss negatively impacts the environment, and 88.1% are very or somewhat concerned about the implementation of regulation because of nutrient loss. This study will help us understand the steps farmers are already taking to voluntarily address nutrient runoff, and will contribute to encouraging more widespread adoption of Best Management Practices.

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