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Corn+Soybean Digest

Iowans willing to pay for better water quality

More than 1,000 Iowans were randomly surveyed about their expectations for agriculture and environmental quality. Not only do Iowans support targeted approaches for multiple-benefit agriculture, they are willing to pay for it, too.

 The survey was conducted by J. Gordon Arbuckle Jr. and John Tyndall, social scientists collaborating on the STRIPS project at Iowa State University.

STRIPS stands for Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips. The project strategically plants prairie strips in crop fields.

 Results s have shown that small amounts of prairie can yield disproportionate, multi-functional benefits to soils, watersheds, wildlife habitat and biodiversity. The multidisciplinary STRIPS research team conducted the survey to find out the extent to which Iowans were interested in this kind of shift toward conservation agriculture.

More than half of Iowans surveyed agreed that agriculture has some negative impacts on the environment, and two-thirds indicated that they’d support a shift toward a targeted conservation approach to minimize these negative effects, while also benefiting agricultural landscapes.

Iowans' highest conservation priority in the survey was water-related benefits. Given a list of 15 items to rank on a five-point scale ranging from “no priority” to “very high priority” for agricultural policy and programs, drinking-water quality was the highest priority by a wide margin: 91% said it was a high or very high priority.

 Protecting water quality for aquatic life and recreation, and improving flood control were also top priorities. Iowans would also like to see agricultural policy and programs create wildlife habitat, mitigate climate change, and provide recreational, tourism and economic development opportunities. 

Iowans were willing to pay for a hypothetical scenario targeting conservation approaches to yield diverse conservation benefits while still producing food, feed and fuel.

 The hypothetical payments would range over 10 years.

This survey was conducted a year after 63% of Iowa voters passed an amendment to the Iowa Constitution creating a Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. The amendment would dedicate a fraction of 1% of any future sales tax increase to create a stable funding source for natural resource needs. The state has not increased sales tax since the 2010 referendum, however, so the Trust Fund does not yet have a dedicated source of funding.

A primary objective of the survey was to measure Iowans’ willingness to pay into such a fund.

 Sixty-three percent of the survey respondents—the same proportion of Iowa voters that voted to create the Trust Fund—indicated that they’d support a shift to a targeted conservation approach, and 89% of those who supported the shift were willing to pay for it through taxes, license plate fees or voluntary contributions.

 The survey provided 10 dollar amount options, ranging from $0 to $75 per year over 10 years. Half of the respondents were willing to pay $30 or more per year. In fact, $75 was the most commonly selected amount (at 21%). 

"Our scenario was hypothetical, based loosely on the trust fund amendment," says Arbuckle.

The results of this survey are summarized further at

Learn more about the STRIPS project on the research team’s website,

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