Conservation Practices Study

Ag Retail in Transition – Evaluating a Fee-Based Sustainability Service Model

The idea of sustainability, in all of its forms, in the food and agricultural chains is not new, but it has recently gained a great deal of attention. One of the most important aspects of being sustainable is the adoption of agricultural conservation practices. These practices play a critical role in reducing input use, improving soil health, enhancing water quality, sequestering carbon and reducing other greenhouse gas emissions. However, despite many of these practices showing promise in also reducing production costs and enhancing yields, adoption rates remain stubbornly low, ultimately limiting the desired sustainability impacts of these practices.

Study Objectives

  • Explore the opportunities and challenges both farmers and agricultural retailers face in planning and adopting conservation practices.
  • Evaluate the role of agricultural retailers in fostering conservation practice adoption by farmers.
  • Explore the potential for a business model for sustainability services that complements agricultural retailers’ current business model to better compete and maintain relevance in supporting the current and future conservation needs of their farmer customers.

View the white paper for in-depth details and findings of this research study.


This project was comprised of two phases aiming to understand both agricultural retailers’ and farmers’ views and actions regarding conservation practices.

  • Phase I was conducted through ten focus groups, which took place from December 2019 to June 2020. Five of the focus groups featured retailers from midwestern states, and the remaining five focus groups featured those retailers’ respective farmer customers. During the focus groups, each group was questioned about their view on different aspects regarding conservation practices, their adoption, barriers, retailers’ role and business opportunities. Their opinions were summarized and compared in order to understand the different points of view between these groups.
  • Phase II used key themes derived from Phase I takeaways to develop questions for the 2021 Large Commercial Producer Survey that will be sent to both farmers and retailers. The objective of the survey is to quantify farmer and retailer perceptions regarding the identified key themes.

Study Archives

To learn more about the need and development of this study, additional insights learned and possible implications, view a webinar recording hosted by the Purdue University Center for Food and Agricultural Business and The Nature Conservancy here, or read our blog, Agricultural Retailers’ & Farmers’ Perspective: Findings From an Exploratory Study on Conversation Practices in Agriculture.

TNC Webinar Recording


This study was completed in partnership with The Nature Conservancy.

View the White Paper