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Interviews with 35 Vermont farmers explored their perspectives on compensation associated with a soil health payment for ecosystem services (PES) program in 2022. This report summarizes thematic analysis of those interviews. Farmers’ willingness to participate in a soil health PES is linked to both the burden of enrollment paperwork and the payment level, among other factors.

If deciding whether to participate in a soil health PES program, nearly all farmers said they would weigh the time and energy put into the administrative workload against the perceived benefits and value of the program, i.e., the payment level or technical assistance provided. Farmers appreciate straightforward program applications and paperwork that are aligned with their interests and schedules. Understandable language and access to technical assistance is also important to farmers when applying to programs and/or handling paperwork. A PES program should be as straightforward as possible to ease administrative burdens. At a minimum, compensation should reflect the paperwork and engagement burden for farmers.

100% of the farmers we interviewed highly valued soil health on their farms. Most farmers liked the idea of a PES program which compensates them for soils with good health. They appreciated how a program could enable and/or incentive them to maintain or improve soil health on their farms. Farmers identified the importance for a soil health program to consider differences between farms and soils when setting reasonable performance expectations and payment rates.

Farmers expressed a wide variety of different perspectives and preferences about what payment rates would be meaningful to them in a PES program. There did not seem to be a ‘one-size-fits- all’ level of payment, and associating payment levels with soil health metrics proved challenging for some farmers. While many farmers were able to provide estimates of the level of payment they would be willing to accept, some were either unwilling or unable to determine appropriate levels of payment based on soil health metrics. Most farmers thought about the investment of time and resources needed when thinking about payment rates. Overall, the average level of payment that would be meaningful at the whole farm level described by interviewees was $9,322.00 per farm. However, significant differences in payment levels were detected by farm acreage. Farmers with fewer acres tended to require higher per acre payment rates than farmers with more acres. Conversely, farmers with larger acreage tended to require higher total payment. Approximately 90% of farmers interviewed were supportive of per acre payments in a soil health PES program. Nearly 50% of interviewees expressed concerns about how undifferentiated per acre payment rates across different farm types would favor the participation of farms with more acres and those which were less intensively managed.

The potential value of a soil health PES program was widely recognized to be more than just monetary. Farmers expressed interest in both the monetary and non-monetary benefits that a potential program might offer them. Most were interested in the program providing some combination of financial payments, access to farm-specific data, connection to a farmer network/learning community, and technical assistance.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.