1.1 Public and Private Sector Roles in the Co-Production of Climate Decision Support Tools for Agriculture

Monday, 8 January 2018: 8:45 AM
Ballroom F (ACC) (Austin, Texas)
Tonya Haigh, National Drought Mitigation Center, Lincoln, NE; and J. Klink and A. S. Mase

The landscape of communicating climate information and science has changed over the past five years. As Lemos et al. (2012) describe, there is a “marketplace” full of information. Usability depends on users choosing information and incorporating into decision-making. Generally, though, adoption of climate information within the agricultural community has been slow. Research has identified characteristics of the information, the users, and the development process that must be met in order for users to adopt climate information. Much of the research appears to focus on publicly produced information, but increasingly, agricultural producers in the U.S. Corn Belt are able access climate information that is produced and delivered by a range of public entities (e.g. universities) and for-profit firms (e.g. Climate Corp, Pioneer).

The Useful to Usable (U2U) project was a multi-year, 12-state, interdisciplinary research and extension project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) to enhance the usability and up-take of climate information, with the long-term goals of supporting more profitable agricultural systems and greater resilience to a variable and changing climate. The project built Lemos and Morehouse’s principles of interaction, interdisciplinarity, and reflection of user needs, in developing a co-production process for climate-related decision support tools for corn farming in the U.S. Midwest. Over the course of the project the U2U team not only developed five climate-based decision support tools, but also explored the interlinked roles of publicly and privately-provided climate information and advising. We found differing and complementary roles for private and public sector advisors, and integrated these lessons into the development and dissemination of the U2U tools. For example, private agriculture consultants such as certified crop advisors were brought into the co-production process because of their demonstrated interest in, and capacity to work with, climate information.

This presentation explores farmers’ and farm advisors’ use of public and for-profit climate information tools, including U2U-generated tools, as well as the value attributes farmers and advisors ascribe to each type of information. In 2016, as part of the final evaluation of the USDA-funded Useful to Usable project, we conducted a survey of farmers and advisors in 12 Midwestern states representative of the U.S. Corn Belt. The survey included questions to evaluate the usability of publicly and privately provided climate information, as well as to evaluate the uptake and perceptions of U2U-generated tools. We hypothesized that 1) publicly and privately provided climate information would be perceived differently in terms of salience, credibility, and legitimacy; 2) farmers and advisors would have different perceptions of climate information; and 3) due to the co-production process of U2U tools, farmers and advisors would evaluate them relatively positively in terms of their usability.

Our results show that, in many regards, respondents see privately and publicly provided climate information as being equally salient and credible, though respondents perceive privately provided climate information as being more specific to their farm needs. Many do not believe that either publicly or privately produced information gives them a competitive edge over competitors. There are clear differences in the perceptions of farmers and advisors. Advisors are more likely to use climate information, and farmers are more skeptical than advisors about the accuracy, specificity, and relevance of all types of climate information. With regard to the U2U project and tools, we found that a higher percentage of farm advisors than farmers were aware of the tools, had used the tools, and would recommend the tools to others. Finally, we found that use of U2U tools generally increased farmer and advisor likelihood of using weather or climate information in their future advising or decision-making. The findings highlight issues raised in co-production of climate information, and resulting trust in, and use of, climate information tools.

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