ARA: Stewardship between retailers, conservation districts

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click image to zoomDouglas Lawrence, President, Blackwoods Group LLCDouglas Lawrence, President, Blackwoods Group LLC In the July 2013 issue of AgProfessional, I provided an overview of a survey of agricultural retailer and conservation district employees. The survey was designed to identify ways that agricultural retailers and conservation districts can improve their working relationship so that they can help farmers accelerate the adoption of nutrient stewardship practices as part of the 4R Nutrient Stewardship initiative. 4R Nutrient Stewardship is an innovative, science-based approach that can enhance environmental protection, increase crop production, increase farmer profitability and improve sustainability. The 4R approach to nutrient stewardship uses the right fertilizer source, at the right rate, at the right time, with the right placement. See http://www.nutrientstewardship.com.

The agricultural retailers had a high awareness of the 4R Nutrient Stewardship initiative and only2 percent first learned about the 4Rs through the survey. There was a significantly lower awareness level with the conservation district employees with 37 percent reporting that the survey was the first that they had heard of the 4R initiative. When asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the highest level of awareness) their awareness of the 4Rs, the agricultural retailer average rating was 7.2 while the conservation district employee rating was 4.6.

Each group’s awareness of the other is low. On a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest level of awareness, agricultural retailers rated awareness of conservation district activities at 5.4 and conservation district employees rated awareness of agricultural retailer activities at 3.3.

Both groups rated “having a positive environmental impact” very high. Agricultural retailers rated it at 9.1 and conservation districts rated it at 9.4.

Both groups agreed that the “different objectives” of the organizations was a major barrier to increasing collaboration. However, this may not be a significant concern since the skills of the groups are complementary and there is a common interest in environmental improvement.

Eighty-two percent of agricultural retailers agree that they would like more information from conservation districts about cost share programs, federal conservation program operations and new products. Sixty-two percent of conservation district employees would like more information from agricultural retailers such as details about the 4Rs. Both groups would like to develop a better working relationship by improving professional relationships, sharing information, holding regular meetings and undertaking joint training. The biggest challenge, based on the survey and general confidentiality concerns, is related to sharing farmer data.

When asked to select the major barriers that prevent customers from adopting additional nutrient stewardship practices, agricultural retailers and conservation district employees agreed on the top three. Two are based on economics and the third is related to risks associated with change.

Given the opportunities revealed by the 4R survey, greater collaboration between agricultural retailers and conservation districts has the potential to create business opportunities for agricultural retailers; help conservation districts more effectively manage their workload, and most importantly provide the farmer with better service: a win-win-win.


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