Encouraging farmers' participation in the Conservation Stewardship Program: A field experiment

Natalia V. Czap, Hans J. Czap, Simanti Banerjee, Mark E. Burbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


In this paper we present the results of a field experiment on encouraging farmers' application for agri-environmental schemes, specifically the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) that is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the state level. We sent different versions of a recruitment/enrollment letter to agricultural producers in 36 Nebraska counties with historically very low levels of CSP enrollment. We found that the letters doubled the uptake rates as compared to the control (no letter) population. Personalized letters with a handwritten phrase appealing to people's empathetic tendencies toward environmental conservation – an empathy nudge – had the largest impact. When the same nudge was photocopied, it performed statistically significantly worse than handwritten and somewhat (statistically insignificant) worse than a standard letter. The experimental results suggest that the USDA can double the application rate at a cost of only $58–116 per farm. If the money spent on sending letters were instead directed toward increasing financial incentives, it would be cost-equivalent to adding 2.5–5 cents per acre per year to CSP payments. During the time of the experiment, the CSP payments in the state were on average $6.8/acre for rangeland and $24/acre for cropland per year, and extra 2.5–5 cents per acre per year is unlikely to affect the decision of a farmer to apply. As such, from an agri-environmental policy perspective, using personalized letters is highly cost effective.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)130-143
Number of pages14
JournalEcological Economics
StatePublished - Jul 2019


  • Agri-environmental schemes
  • Conservation Stewardship Program
  • Dual-interest
  • Empathy conservation
  • Environmental conservation
  • Nudging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Economics and Econometrics


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