Building multifunctionality into agricultural conservation programs: Lessons learned from designing agroforestry systems with central Illinois landowners

Erik Christian Stanek, Sarah Taylor Lovell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Since 1985, land retirement has been the primary approach used by the federal government for environmental protection of agricultural landscapes, but increasingly it is being supplemented by conservation initiatives on working lands. This shift logically supports agroforestry and other multifunctional approaches as a means to combine production and conservation. However, such approaches can be complex and difficult to design, contributing to the limited adoption in the USA. To understand and improve the integration of multifunctional landscapes into conservation programs, we worked with 15 landowners in a collaborative design process to build unique conservation plans utilizing agroforestry. We interviewed participants before and after the design process to examine the utility of a personalized design process, applicability of agroforestry to conservation programs and pathways to improve conservation policy. We found that landowners strongly preferred working in person for the design process, and being presented a comparison of alternative designs, rather than a single option, especially for novel systems. Agroforestry was seen as a viable method of generating conservation benefits while providing value to the landowners, each of whom stated they were more inclined to adopt such practices irrespective of financial assistance to do so. For conservation programs, landowners suggested reducing their complexity, inflexibility and impersonal nature to improve the integration of multifunctional practices that appeal directly to the practitioner's needs and preferences. These findings are valuable for conservation policy because they complement previous research theory suggesting the value of working collaboratively with landowners in the design of multifunctional landscapes. Personalized solutions that are developed based on the unique characteristics of the local landscape and the preferences of the individual landowner may be retained beyond a specified payment period, rather than being converted back into annual crop production.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)313-321
Number of pages9
JournalRenewable Agriculture and Food Systems
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020


  • Agricultural conservation programs
  • Illinois
  • agroforestry
  • conservation planning
  • design process
  • interview
  • landowner
  • landscape
  • multifunctional

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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