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Accelerating Sustainable
Smart Practices

We seek to understand how to best ensure that practices persist after they are adopted.



Building the Evidence to Smart Practices That

Persists Over Time

There are many practices commonly used by people working in sustainable agriculture and sustainable food systems. Growers may use methods to promote soil health, minimize water use, and lower pollution levels on the farm. Consumers and retailers concerned with sustainability can look for “values-based” foods that are grown using methods promoting farmworker wellbeing, that are environmentally friendly, or that strengthen the local economy. And researchers in sustainable agriculture often cross disciplinary lines with their work: combining biology, economics, engineering, chemistry, community development, and many others.


However, sustainable agriculture is more than a collection of practices. It is also a process of negotiation: a push and pull between the sometimes competing interests of an individual farmer or of people in a community as they work to solve complex problems about how we grow our food and fiber. 


Our research focuses on building a credible evidence base about the environmental and social impacts of federal climate-smart agriculture programs and how if used over time can create a sustainable agricultural environment for all involved.


Sustainable Agriculture is Good for the Environment and the Bottom Line

Despite the proven success of sustainable agriculture techniques, many farmers are hesitant to change their practices, citing perceived financial burdens as one of the main reasons. According to a Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) study, the top reasons farmers hesitate to adopt sustainable agriculture practices is because of a lack of financial resources, economic incentives, and reliable information. In order to get farmers to try sustainable farming practices, economic incentives are vital.

According to a report from the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, the politicization of climate change has turned many farmers away from the subject altogether. This politicization often leads to unrepresentative environmental policy. Ernie Shea, president of the nonprofit Solutions from the Land, said that those in the environmental community often focus solely on the problems in the agriculture industry and demand that all farmers make sweeping changes that may not actually work for each region.

At CBEAR, our research projects are based on what makes sense for each region.  There is no one-size-fits-all solution to address climate change, and environmental solutions must include the perspectives of all agricultural producers.  A range of approaches must be adopted to combat climate change from all angles to ensure a healthier future. 

Source:  Environmental Energy Study Institute

Example 1: SMARRT Foods Project

Consumers face a wide array of food labels, many of which highlight the lower environmental impacts of certain agricultural production processes.  Our research examines consumer demand for these types of food and how this demand impacts the decision of the agricultural food supply.


Example 2:  CONSERVE Project Ag Values Project. Water shortages are impacting many areas of the United States and the world – and the agricultural sector is the largest user of freshwater.  Technologies exist to recycle water and provide treated wastewater for use in irrigation, yet food grown with recycled wastewater faces consumer resistance. Our research examines this resistance and tests ways to overcome this potential stigmatization in order to promote better environmental outcomes.


Understanding Private Sector Incentives for Improved Agri-Environmental Outcomes

Private sector incentives become increasingly important as consumers pay more attention to the environmental issues related to the food supply chain. Environmental benefits are often communicated to consumers via product labels and government and third-party organizations often set standards that farmers must meet to gain access to specialized markets.


The objectives and mechanisms of these private sector incentives differ from those of public sector agri-environmental programs. Thus, it is important to better understand why, how, and how well private sector standards function and promote better agri-environmental outcomes.

To see an example of how we translate our research into program and policy advice, see our FPAC training modules on “Selling Conservation” at the NRCS National Employee Development Center. 

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