Applying a “fail-fast” approach to conservation in US agriculture

Chloe B. Wardropper, Laura A. Esman, Seth C. Harden, Yuta J. Masuda, Pranay Ranjan, Collin Weigel, Paul J. Ferraro, Linda S. Prokopy, Sheila M.W. Reddy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Conservation programs often operate for many years with little information on program performance or impacts. A better process would encourage programs to “fail fast”—in other words, to implement rapid testing to learn and adapt early, and thereby avoid wasting resources. Here, we present a fail-fast approach applied in a multiyear field trial program that sought to improve soil health in the US Cornbelt on farmland owned by nonoperating landowners. While failing fast requires investment and a supportive team culture, we recommend that this approach to program design, with metrics tailored to the program context, be used early and frequently throughout planning and implementation phases to improve program processes and test assumptions well before final outcomes are detectable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere619
JournalConservation Science and Practice
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • agriculture
  • behavioral experiment
  • impact assessment
  • innovation
  • nonoperating landowners
  • randomized controlled trial
  • soil health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)


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