Farmer Decision Makers: What Are They Thinking?

  • Lois Wright MortonEmail author


A broad array of factors shape producers’ decisions and management systems and in turn affect water quality outcomes. Many of these factors relate directly to farmers’ personal and social identity as environmental stewards, their awareness of water quality as a local problem, and how they think about the co-production of agricultural products and environmental services. A series of farmer interviews demonstrate how personal knowledge, experience and management routines influence farmer decision making, and point to a need for a better understanding of these influences. Sustainable improvements in water quality will require farmers reconstruct their frame of reference to include ecosystem management considerations.


Conservation Practice Conservation Farmer Tillage Practice Conservation Reserve Program Water Quality Issue 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Coughenour, C. Milton. 2003. “Innovating Conservation Agriculture: The Case of No-Till Cropping” Rural Sociology 68(2):278–304.Google Scholar
  2. McCown, R. L. 2005. “New Thinking About Farmer Decision Makers.” In The Farmer’s Decision: Balancing Economic Successful Agriculture Production with Environmental Quality edited by Jerry L. Hatfield. Ankeny: Soil and Water Conservation Society. Google Scholar
  3. Ryan, Robert L., Donna L. Erickson, and Raymond deYoung. 2003. “Farmers’ Motivations for Adopting Conservation Practices along Riparian Zones in a Midwestern Agricultural Watershed.” Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 46(1):19–37; Napier, T. L., M. Tucker, and S. McCarter. 2000. “Adoption of Conservation Production Systems in Three Midwest Watersheds.” Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 55(2):123–134. Google Scholar
  4. Simon, Herbert. 1979. “From the Substantive to Procedural Rationality.” pp. 65–68 in Philosophy and Economy Theory edited by F. Han and M. Hollis. New York: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar
  5. The innovation-decision model consists of five stages: knowledge, persuasion, decision, implementation, and confirmation. Rogers, Everett M. 1962, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2003. Diffusion of Innovations. New York: Free Press. Google Scholar
  6. Nowak, Pete and Peter F. Korsching. 1998. “The Human Dimension of Soil and Water Conservation: A Historical and Methodological Perspective.” In Advances in Soil and Water Conservation edited by F. J. Pierce and W. W. Frye. Chelsea: Ann Arbor Press; Lockeretz, William. 1990. “What Have We Learned About Who Conserves Soil?” Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 445(1):132–136; Parker, Jason Shaw and Richard H. Moore. 2008 “Conservation Use and Quality of Life in a Rural Community: An Extension of Goldschmidt’s Findings.” Southern Rural Sociology 23(1)235–265. Google Scholar
  7. van Es, J.C and P. Notier. 1988. “No-till Farming in the United States: Research and Policy Environment in the Development and Utilization of an Innovation.” Society and Natural Resources 1:93–110. Google Scholar
  8. Grumbine, R. Edward. 1997. “Reflections on ‘What is Ecosystem Management?’” Conservation Biology 11(1):41–47. Google Scholar
  9. Morecroft, John D. W. 1994. “Executive Knowledge, Models, and Learning.” p. 4,  Chapter 1 in Modeling for Learning Organizations edited by John D. W. Morecroft and John D. Sterman. Portland: Productivity Press.
  10. Christensen, Lee A. and Patricia E. Norris. 1983. “Soil Conservation and Water Quality Improvement: What Farmers Think.” Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 38:15–20; Morton, Lois Wright. 2008. “The Role of Civic Structure in Achieving Performance-based Watershed Management.” Society and Natural Resources 21(9):751–766. Google Scholar
  11. Rhoads, Bruce L., David Wilson, Michael Urban, and Edwin E. Herricks. 1999. “Interaction Between Scientists and Nonscientists in Community-Based Watershed Management: Emergence of the Concept of Stream Naturalization.” Environmental Management 24(3)297–308. Google Scholar
  12. McCown, R. L. 2002. “Changing Systems of Supporting Farmers’ Decisions: Problems, Paradigms, and Prospects.” Agricultural Systems 74:179–220. Google Scholar
  13. DeMey, Marc. 1982. The Cognitive Paradigm, p. 211. Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel Publishing Company. Google Scholar
  14. Minkler, Meredith and Nina Wallerstein.1999. “Improving Health through Community Organization and Community Building.”  Chapter 3 in Community Organizing and Community Building for Health edited by Meredith Minkler. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
  15. Lewin, Kurt. 1951. Field Theory in the Social Sciences. New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
  16. Cohen, Jean L. 1999. “American Civil Society Talk.” pp. 55–85 in Civil Society, Democracy and Civic Renewal edited by R. K. Fullinwider. New York: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. Google Scholar
  17. Nassauer, J. I. 1989. “Agricultural Policy and Aesthetic Objectives.” Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 44(5):384–387. Google Scholar
  18. Farmer #3 NE Iowa interviews 2005.Google Scholar
  19. Lower Big Sioux River Watershed Survey (Iowa) November 2007, mailed to 4,439 farmers, 1,110 completed surveys were returned (25.2% response rate) conducted in 12 subwatersheds of the Lower Big Sioux River by three county Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD). There was a single mailing with no follow-up to increase response rate.Google Scholar
  20. Principal component analysis, varimax rotation; Cronbach alpha test for reliability for each factor. Two factors with an alpha greater than 0.70 have strong reliability; two factors in the 0.50 range do not cluster together as strongly. Google Scholar
  21. Younger than age 30 years had a mean of 3.10 (Moderate use) and were significantly more likely to use record-based management than four other categories of older farmers; ANOVA. Google Scholar
  22. Age, number of acres farmed, and peer practices predicted 20.8% of the variance in adoption of record-based management with age significant at p < 0.023 (B = 1.155); and acres (B = 0.233) and peer practices (B = 0.323) significant at p < 0.01. OLS Regression. Google Scholar
  23. Secchi, Silvia and Bruce A. Babcock. 2007. “Impact of High Crop Prices on Environmental Quality: A Case of Iowa and the Conservation Reserve Program.” Working paper 07-WP447 Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, Ames, IA. (
  24. de Geus, Arie P. 1994. “Modeling to Predict or to Learn?” Foreword in Modeling for Learning Organizations edited by John D. W. Morecroft and John D. Sterman. Portland: Productivity Press. Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyIowa State UniversityAmesUSA

Personalised recommendations