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SWEEP Report #7

Sources of Motivation in the Adoption
of Conservation Tillage

Stephen Connolly & Stewart Hilts, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ont.

Executive Summary

Evaluation Summary (Tech. Transfer Report Summaries)

View / Download Final Report [486 KB pdf]

Associated SWEEP/LSP Research



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Completed: December, 1988

Key Words:

Adoption-Diffusion model, Socio-economic and behavioral factors, Motivational Factors, Cluster Analysis, Need Theory & Constructs of Motivation and Behavioral Practices.

Executive Summary

To date, research on agriculture and conservation has been largely devoted to attempts to identify farmers who are most likely to 'adopt' a particular conservation practice or technology. Based on the Adoption-Diffusion model, this research has identified farmers in terms of socio-economic factors such as age and education or farm characteristics such as farm size or farm type. This research has been criticized on several points, two of which are: its inability to address the fact that conservation practices in agriculture are complex and variable, and its inability to reflect the complexity of the individual's decision-making process.

This study presents a methodology which partly answers the above concerns by facilitating the 'mapping' of ideas or sources of motivation. This process is applied to a survey in which farmers were asked to rate the importance of a variety of motivational and behaviourial factors.

The result of this process is the grouping of respondents into four distinct 'clusters' which appear to be largely differentiated by the degree to which farm survival at a personal level is a motivating factor. Those farmers who appear to be most strongly motivated by survival tend to be the youngest, least educated and least experienced, farming the largest acreage. These farmers show average to good cropping, rotation and tillage practices though they use the least number of water management practices. Those farmers who appear to be least strongly motivated by survival have the highest average education, and farm the smallest acreage; they show average to good rotation, cropping and tillage practices and use the greatest number of water management practices.


Evaluation Summary

(From Technology Transfer Report Summaries - A. Hayes, L. Cruickshank, Co-Chairs)

This study was an exploratory study that provided an examination of perceptions and motivating factors in agriculture and conservation and specifically conservation tillage. It applied a set of analytical tools - a phenomenological model of experience and perception instead of the traditional behavioral approach - an adoption-diffusion model. To the authors' knowledge the former had not been applied to the questions of agriculture and conservation.

The study widely criticized use of the five-stage model of the innovation-decision process on the grounds that use of such a model allows researchers to develop "neat" research agendas that are not really relevant to what was really happening in terms of agriculture and conservation. That is, its basis lacks complexity and dynamicism and is unsuitable for explaining the process and predicting the outcome of introducing a new technology (conservation tillage) to a target audience (farmers). The authors cite research that discredits the use of adoption diffusion models as measures of why farmers adopt conservation measures. The main contentions of why this classical Adoption-Diffusion model can be ineffective was summarized as:

  1. A-D research appears to be pro-innovation and observable events are the adoption or diffusion, not the non-adoption or non-diffusion of innovations.

  2. A-D research emphasizes the role and responsibility of the individual as the decision maker while excluding consideration of larger issues namely social, economic and political environments that the individual inhabits.

  3. A-D research does not handle well the dimension of time. This is related to problems of objectivity and the accuracy of recall and memory among respondents.

  4. A-D research does not allow for analysis of causality.

The report cited several research works of the critical rural sociological approach that opposed the structured functionalist approach (classical rural sociologist approach) and stressed a need to modify the Adoption-Diffusion model so it was equipped to handle better environmental concerns such as conservation tillage. The concept proposed to examine the adoption of conservation tillage they put forth was still based upon choices made by the individual operator, yet it more specifically identifies external factors that influence their choices, namely educational infrastructure, policy environment, market and regulations. The authors of this report documented many studies which emphasized that conservation technologies tend to be complexes of technology and technique, rather than discrete inventions to which the traditional A-D model is best suited to interpret. They illustrated well that conservation technologies are believed to not be simply adopted or not adopted but evolve and mutate to meet local conditions. As a result, utilization and adaption replace "adoption" as the product of the process.

The report reviewed other adoption research that related the adoption of conservation technologies (soil loss measures/awareness of ecological concerns, conservation tillage and farm enterprise and sales) in terms of such dependent and independent variables as age, education, aversion to risk and characteristics of farm operations; all demonstrated inconclusive or conflicting results and were unable to reflect ethical or moral concerns. Further, they were oriented to action or behaviours rather than underlying perceptions and beliefs. The authors proposed and tested a model (on a small sample) that was felt to be a better fit and more reflective to the perceptions and experience associated with the adoption and diffusion of resource conservation technologies.

This proposed alternative model, a phenomenological model, although more humane and informative, though perhaps less conclusive, attempts to link motivation and needs theory (community belonging & esteem), as well as the theory of Personal Constructs - a theory of cognition, perception and individual experience. Their study, a mail-out questionnaire regarding motivation was administered to individuals who had previously participated in an earlier extensive survey (OIP survey) of cropping and conservation practices. A random selection of 400 of 1029 previous respondents resulted in 107 completed questionnaires for a response rate of 28%. The previous OIP survey cited economic reasons as the most important if not the only source of motivation in farming. This SWEEP research chose to de-emphasize economics and sought to describe the relationships between economics and Maslovian needs theory. The questionnaire, consisting of 3 sections, attempted to co-relate sustainability, community, leadership and stewardship and ranked 19 practices, behaviours and ideas. As well, the farmers were asked to supply socioeconomic information.

Major Findings:

Behavioral data were drawn from the OIP survey results and a series of 4 indices (cropping practice index, tillage practice index a second tillage index and a surface drainage index and an index of observed problems) were developed to simplify analysis of the raw data. Simple correlations of socio-economic variables and tillage and conservation behaviour were performed on the data set in an attempt to group respondents according to apparent differences in perception or motivation. The analytical techniques of Multi-dimensional scaling (MDS), a weighting measure and cluster analysis were used to produce and analyze aggregate maps of motivations and perceptions in terms of their similarities and differences. The full data set was found to contain 4 valid clusters. An examination of each of these clusters showed that the structure of perceptions and motivation regarding agriculture and conservation was complex and variable. The clusters appear to be largely differentiated by the degree to which farm survival at a personal level is a motivating factor. For example a strong motivator is characterized by:

  1. Those farmers who appear to be most strongly motivated by survival tend to be the youngest, least educated and least experienced, and farming the largest acreage. These farmers showed average to good cropping, rotation and tillage practices though they use the least number of water management practices.

    Less strongly motivated farmers are characterized by:

  2. Those farmers who have the highest average education, and farm the smallest acreage. They showed average to good rotation, cropping and tillage practices and use the greatest number of water management practices.

The role of stewardship does not appear to be a well developed source of motivation. The authors considered it as being viewed as a normative thing that farmers do rather than the antithesis of economic behaviour. Moreover, stewardship does not appear to strongly differentiate groups of farmers. The concept of farm survival appears to have dominated the process of clustering. Of all the sources of motivation evaluated by the farmers, farm survival at the personal level appears to be the most significant.


Although the results of this study are not definitive it does provide a fresh approach to examining the reasons why and how conservation tillage and practices are adopted. Further, it verifies other work clarifying that farm finance is not the prime motivator: motivation is complex. This study suggests that to effect change proper situational analysis is a prerequisite.

The most significant finding is that farm survival at the personal level is the prime motivator for changes towards soil and water conservation.

Associated SWEEP/LSP Research:

  • SWEEP Report #9 - Conservation Practices in Southwestern Ontario Agriculture: Barriers to Adoption

  • SWEEP Report #0 - Cropping, Tillage and Land Management Practices in Southwestern Ontario 1986

  • SWEEP Report #3 - An Economic Assessment of the Distribution of Benefits Arising from Adoption of Conservation Tillage Practices in Crop Production in Southwestern Ontario

  • SWEEP Report #6 - A Survey of Crop Residue in Southwestern Ontario 1987

  • SWEEP Report #8 - Social Structure and the Choice of Cropping Technology: Influence of Personal Networks on the Decision to Adopt Conservation Tillage.

  • LSP 7008 - Differences in Soil Conservation between Operator-Owned and Rented Land

Future Research: ( ) indicates reviewers suggestion for priority, A - high, C - low.

(C) The structure of perceptions and motivation regarding agriculture and conservation is complex and variable. Additional studies using similar techniques should be tried again in order to test, refute and or improve their model with standard hypotheses on a larger sample in order to draw reliable conclusions regarding perceptions and motivation with respect to the adoption of conservation farming practices. It would also be instructive if future studies of a similar nature examined the adoption of conservation farming practices with respect to farm enterprise type.





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Created: 05-28-1996
Last Revised: Thursday, May 19, 2011 01:06:59 PM