Environmental Management

, Volume 64, Issue 4, pp 483–496 | Cite as

Predicting Farmer Adoption of Water Conservation Practices Using a Norm-based Moral Obligation Model

  • Amit K. PradhanangaEmail author
  • Mae A. Davenport


This study examines the social-psychological drivers of conservation practice adoption among farmers in Minnesota. Specifically, it applies a moral obligation model to understand farmer decision-making related to water resource management, focusing in particular on conservation tillage and drainage management. Data were collected through a self-administered mail survey of 1500 landowners in two subwatersheds of the Red River Basin: Wild Rice River and Middle Snake-Tamarac Rivers. Data were analyzed using structural equation modeling. Study results demonstrate that farmers’ decisions to adopt conservation practices are influenced by personal norms and perceived ability to protect water resources. Further, beliefs about personal responsibility for water protection, and perceived ability to protect water resources activate personal norms of water protection. Collectivistic and biosphere-altruistic values serve as the basis for the activation of personal norms. Study findings suggest that a combination of behavioral intervention strategies that provide tailored information about local water resource problems, appeal to farmers’ values, sense of responsibility and personal obligation, and enhance farmers’ ability to use conservation practices may be effective in achieving higher levels of conservation practice adoption.


Nonpoint source pollution Watershed management Best management practices (BMPs) Land use/land cover change Farmer decision-making 



We would like to thank the Northwest Regional Sustainable Development Partnership, University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for their collaboration. We would especially like to thank Linda Kingery (Executive Director, Northwest Minnesota Sustainable Development Partnership, University of Minnesota, Crookston, MN) and Henry Van Offelen (Principal State Planner, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Detroit Lakes, MN) for their invaluable input on study design, participant recruitment, and study outreach. We would also like to thank Bree Duever (Research Assistant, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN) for her assistance in data collection and data entry, and Emilee Oyamada (Undergraduate Research Assistant) and Emily Green for reviewing this paper. We are also grateful to the survey respondents. This project was supported by funding from the Northwest Minnesota Foundation, the Northwest Regional Sustainable Development Partnership, University of Minnesota, and the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Hatch project 229912. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the funders.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Forest Resources, Center for Changing LandscapesUniversity of MinnesotaSt. PaulUSA

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