Designing multifunctional woody polycultures according to landowner preferences in Central Illinois

  • Erik Christian StanekEmail author
  • Sarah Taylor Lovell
  • Ann Reisner


Multifunctional woody polycultures (MWPs) are an alternative agricultural practice gaining interest in the U.S. Corn Belt as an option for combining agricultural production and conservation goals. MWPs integrate fruit, nut, timber, and/or bioenergy crops adjacent to annual crops. Previous studies revealed that landowners lack adequate information to make informed decisions regarding the adoption of MWPs. Following up on that work, this study engaged with 15 rural landowners in the Upper Sangamon River Watershed of Central Illinois to identify their design preferences, their information needs, and the adoption potential for MWPs. Landowner-specific designs were constructed based on three predefined alternative scenarios distinguished by their focus on: (1) production, (2) conservation, or (3) cultural functions. Two semi-structured interviews were conducted with landowners before and after the design process. Results from quantitative analysis and qualitative interpretation showed landowners preferred designs that integrated high levels of edible nuts and berries in an efficient, machine-harvestable arrangement. Nut-producing species, notably northern-adapted varieties of pecan (Carya illinoinensis), were the most preferred. The most influential motivators for the design and adoption of MWPs were utilizing high-value edible crops, improving pollinator and wildlife habitat, and increasing productivity of marginal land. While important, landowners felt these motivators still did not overcome limitations in the practical application of MWPs due to a lack of harvest machinery, of post-harvest processing facilities, and of accessible markets. The study findings demonstrate that a lack of reliable economic, marketing, and management information severely constrains the adoption potential of MWPs despite landowner interest in using MWPs on marginal lands.


Multifunctional woody polycultures Landowner Preferences Design Scenarios Visualizations Participatory 



This material is based on work supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under Award No. 2014-68006-22041. The Illinois Nutrient Research and Education Council provided additional funding and support. We owe so much to the cooperation and interest of all our participants in this study. Our work absolutely depended on our participants’ willingness to share their thoughts, insight, and life goals.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Crop Sciences, Plant Science LabUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUrbanaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Media and Cinema StudiesUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignChampaignUSA

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