Using a randomized controlled trial to develop conservation strategies on rented farmlands

Collin Weigel, Seth Harden, Yuta J. Masuda, Pranay Ranjan, Chloe B. Wardropper, Paul J. Ferraro, Linda Prokopy, Sheila Reddy

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review


Addressing the environmental impacts of large-scale agriculture requires innovative approaches to conservation program design and evaluation. We used a randomized controlled trial and a sample of 2225 landowners in the Mississippi River Basin to test a new conservation program that targets a growing but overlooked population—nonoperating landowners (NOLs). To spur adoption of conservation practices on farmland rented out by NOLs, the program provided NOLs with ready-to-use lease language and a financial incentive. The program's design was informed by field work, the behavioral science literature, and the social science literature on barriers to conservation on farmland. We cannot detect an effect on conservation practices from the lease language or the incentive. The take-up rate for the incentive was one-tenth the expected rate based on NOL responses to a hypothetical offer in a survey. The results underscore the importance of assessing program performance by rigorously testing programs in real conservation settings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere12803
JournalConservation Letters
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • agricultural policy
  • behavioral economics
  • financial incentive
  • nonoperating landowners
  • payments for environmental services
  • program evaluation
  • randomized controlled trial
  • remote sensing
  • soil health
  • technology adoption

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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