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Targeting conservation messages to enact change

Article cover photo
Watershed coordinators and field staff in the North Raccoon watershed discuss the new ISA grant project that will help encourage conservation practices on farmland in their area. (Photo: Carol Brown, Iowa Soybean Association)

By Carol Brown, environmental communications specialist

Increasing conservation farming practices on the land improves soil health and water quality for agriculture. A bonus: these same practices also improve wildlife habitat. 

The Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) recently received a grant from National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to help take this message to farmers and landowners who may influence changes on the land. 

ISA is partnering with Farm Journal’s Trust In Food™ division and the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance (IAWA) to build awareness, knowledge, and ultimately adoption of conservation practices. The Headwaters of the North Raccoon, Buttrick and Hardin Creeks watersheds, and the Farm to River Partnership project watersheds will be the focus of the grant project. All of these areas are in the North Raccoon Watershed. Farther south, the Swan Lake Branch and Walnut Creek watersheds also are included in this collaborative project. 

Through the three-year grant, Farm Journal will extract information from their extensive subscriber database to deliver tailored messages on the benefits of conservation practices such as cover crops, precision nutrient application, bioreactors, saturated buffers, wetlands and more. 

“The project partners believe that when farmers and landowners are presented with technical and financial assistance aligned with tailored messaging that offers immediate opportunities to take action, it will be more impactful,” said Roger Wolf, director of ISA Environmental Programs and Services. “Farmers often get bombarded with information that isn’t specifically relevant to them. This project intends to be much more specific.” 

Farm Journal and the project partners will employ pre- and post-surveys, individual conversations, print and email communications to analyze which messages had the greatest influence on knowledge and eventual behavioral change toward conservation practices. 

Recently, ISA and IAWA staff met to discuss the project with field staff from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NCRS) and other stakeholder representatives including project coordinators in the priority watersheds, Pheasants Forever, and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. 

“I believe the project will help me have more in-depth discussions with watershed residents related to conservation, soil health and water quality,” said Lee Gravel, project coordinator for Headwaters of the North Raccoon River. “It may allow people in positions like mine to reach more individuals overall.” He said Farm Journal has established a strong degree of trust and credibility with farmers and landowners over the years. 

“With Farm Journal’s capability of identifying farmers and landowners who are more likely to adopt a new conservation practice, we can prioritize our outreach efforts where we have the greatest chance of success,” Gravel said. 

Messaging and information gleaned from the project will help provide direction for conservation districts, said Sheila Hebenstreit, water quality specialist for Greene County Soil and Water Conservation District. 

“I think the outcome from this project will be another tool for me to use,” she said. “The information to be generated will help me focus on the target areas for me to work.”  

Although it is difficult to know exactly why a farmer or landowner elects to make changes on his or her farm, Farm Journal and NFWF are hoping they can gain some insight. The group believes that coordinated partnership along with targeted communications will go far to scale up practice implementation to meet the goals of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, which has been in place for six years.

“I didn’t know many of the people at the meeting, but we are all working toward the same goal,” Hebenstreit said. “I think we will benefit from knowing each other and it helps that NRCS and ISA are backing the project and our work.” 

Marty Adkins, NRCS assistant state conservationist, encouraged his field staff to participate in the grant project. 

“I’m excited to get this project underway,” Adkins said. “There is a diverse set of partners who each have their own strengths. I’m hopeful that we can reach more people and accelerate progress for conservation.” 

Contact Carol Brown at

For media inquiries, permission to republish articles or to request high-res photos, please contact Katie James, ISA Public Relations Manager at © 2020 Iowa Soybean Association. All rights reserved.