Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 26, Issue 1–2, pp 83–94 | Cite as

Getting to better water quality outcomes: the promise and challenge of the citizen effect

  • Lois Wright MortonEmail author
  • Chih Yuan Weng


Agriculture is a major cause of non-point source water pollution in the Midwest. Excessive nitrate, phosphorous, and sediment levels degrade the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico. In this research we ask, to what extent can citizen involvement help solve the problem of non-point source pollution. Does connecting farmers to farmers and to other community members make a difference in moving beyond the status quo? To answer these questions we examine the satisfaction level of Iowa farmers and landowners with their current conservation measures as a proxy for willingness to change. A survey of 360 conservation minded farmers obtained from a random sample of 75 HUC (Hydrologic Unit Code) 12 Iowa watersheds reveals that 27% of the variance among farmers’ perception of adequacy of their conservation practices is explained by a combination of beliefs about the seriousness of water pollution, personal, civic, and expert connections. The more farmers talk with other farmers the more likely they are satisfied with their conservation efforts. However, the more frequently farmers talk to friends and neighbors that don’t farm, the more likely they are to not be satisfied with their conservation efforts. Further, the more social organizations farmers belong to—e.g., more non-farmers they interact with in a group setting—the more likely they are to be dissatisfied with their level of effort being adequate to protect local water bodies. These findings suggest the personal and civic connections among farmers and communities are important in explaining perceptions of how adequate conservation measures are. These perceptions have implications for farmers’ willingness to go beyond current actions and more actively engage in solving local watershed problems and explain why they may not currently be engaged in additional actions.


Citizen effect Civic structure Conservation practices Farmers’ perceptions Water quality Watershed problem solving 



Hydrologic Unit Code


Environmental Protection Agency


Non point source


Conservation Reserve Program


United States Department of Agriculture


Natural Resource Conservation Service


Iowa State University


Soil and Water Conservation District



This research is funded by the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES) United States Department of Agriculture under Agreement No.2002-51130-01515 Heartland Regional Water Quality Coordination Initiative.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyIowa State UniversityAmesUSA
  2. 2.Psychological and Brain SciencesDartmouth CollegeHanoverUSA

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