Nudging Landowners and Tenants Toward Environmental and Social Stewardship

Grant will focus on promoting societal goals by fostering new leasing communication practices and contract clauses that incorporate landowners' social ethics

Ray Massey, Extension professor, and Michelle Segovia, assistant professor, both faculty of agricultural and applied economics in the Division of Applied Social Sciences, recently received a grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The grant is for $498,833 and is titled, “Nudging Landowners and Tenants Toward Environmental and Social Stewardship.”

The grant was part of a recent $11.5-million USDA research investment to help ensure America’s small and medium-sized farms become more profitable and improve the quality of life in American farm communities.

“The ultimate goal of our project is to promote societal goals by fostering new leasing communication practices and contract clauses that incorporate landowners’ social ethics,” Massey said. “Landowners have expressed interest in helping young farmers and to preserve the environmental and soil quality of their farmland assets. We believe behavioral economic concepts will foster the communication necessary to incorporate social ethics. Landowners, in a manner similar to socially conscious investing, can be exposed to novel ways of using their land to meet their ethical values. Nudges can be developed that assist young and environmentally conscious farmers manage land to meet the landowners’ desires.”

Massey added that objectives of the project will be to determine which sustainable values of landowners can be more efficiently met using their land asset and to develop tools to foster those values in leasing arrangements.

The project will be spread out through three years. The first year will focus on implementing focus groups with landowners from Missouri and another state to gather information on the behavioral factors that might influence landowners’ motivation to adopt leasing contracts with environmental and social components. During the second year, Massey and his team will design and implement nationwide self-administered surveys with rural landowners, which will allow them to elicit potential motivators and barriers for adopting new leases with environmental components and respondents’ perceptions on the benefits and costs of having beginning or young farmers as tenants.

Two behavioral interventions (and a control group) will be designed and implemented late in Year 2 and into Year 3 through participatory workshops and economic experiments. One intervention will include an educational (non-financial) component, while the other intervention will be focused on financial incentives (tax reduction or subsidies for conservation practices). A total of 225 landowners will be invited to participate in the workshops and economic experiments that will take place during existing Extension, farm management association and commodity meetings.