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SWEEP Report #9

Conservation Practices in Southwestern Ontario Agriculture:
Barriers to Adoption

John Smithers and Barry Smit, Dept. of Geography, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ont.

Executive Summary

Evaluation Summary (Tech. Transfer Report Summaries)

View / Download Complete Report [312 KB pdf]

Associated SWEEP/LSP Research



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Completed: January, 1989

Key Words:

adoption, soil conservation, extension, program planning, awareness, technology transfer

Executive Summary

Purpose and Overview

Concern over the degradation of soil and water resources has prompted the development of numerous technological advancements in agriculture. These technologies, combined with the resurrection of some traditional farming methods, provide the means for using agricultural lands in ways that minimize environmental degradation. Despite these positive developments, technological advancements are of little value until they are applied. Consequently, there now exists considerable interest in identifying and evaluating the factors that influence technology transfer.

Soil conservation research in Ontario and other jurisdictions suggests that many farmers are aware of the existence of soil conservation technologies, and are favourably disposed toward land stewardship. Despite these facts, the adoption of conservation technologies and practices has not been widespread. It is now evident that positive attitudes and awareness are necessary, but not sufficient, to ensure adoption. The conclusion is that other forces are constraining many farmers from acting on their pro-conservation attitudes.

The purpose of this research is to identify barriers to conservation in agricultural land use, and to assess the prospects for their removal. The major objectives of the study are:

  1. to identify the nature and extent of conservation practices by farmers in Southwestern Ontario,

  2. to identify, characterize and evaluate the major barriers to the use of conservation practices, and

  3. to consider factors which promote and/or obstruct adoption of soil conservation practices for policies and programs.

Strategy and Methods

The completion of this study involved a review of scholarly and professional literature, the collection of primary data pertaining to farms and farmers through the administration of a mail questionnaire and through telephone interviews, and the use of secondary data sources as appropriate. Primary data for the study were collected between August and November 1988.

The selection of the study area was guided by the geographical focus of the Soil and Water Environmental Enhancement Program, and the desire to include a range of biophysical conditions and farm business types. In view of these requirements, the counties of Kent and Oxford were selected for examination.

Prior to undertaking the analysis, it was necessary to devise a measurement technique for assessing conservation practice use among farms. A classification scheme was developed which reflected the intensity or level of conservation effort based on the number and type of practices used. The classification scheme was used to identify physical, personal and farm business factors related to higher levels of adoption. While considerable variation existed between adopter groups, over 90 per cent of respondents claimed to use at least some conservation practice on the land they farmed.

Summary of Results

A range of variables relating to the human, physical, and economic characteristics of the farm operation were tested for their possible association with the use of conservation practices. Significant influences on adoption were: scale of farm operations, perceptions of erosion and other soil problems, age of the farm operator, membership in farm organizations, concern over the seriousness of erosion as an agricultural issue, and tenure. Several possible barriers to conservation practice use were inferred from the findings. They include lack of land, lack of investment capital, age (at either extreme), and may include failure to recognize soil problems, lack of knowledge regarding possible solutions, and lack of conservation concern.

The issue of reported or perceived barriers to adoption, and the prospects for their removal was addressed. While a broad range of barriers to adoption was identified, the most commonly cited were perceived inadequacy of the technologies, perceived lack of need for practices, financial constraints relating to investment capital and foregone income, and the difficulty of incorporating specific practices into existing management systems.

Nearly two-thirds of the respondents indicated that they were interested in adding some (or more) conservation practices to their management system. Several conditions or actions, needed to facilitate adoption, were identified. These included the need for proof of the effectiveness and efficiency of practices, higher profits in farming, financial and technical assistance to assist with implementation, and demonstrated need for changes to the current management system.

With respect to policy alternatives and implications, farmers responded most favourably to initiatives which feature assistance and education rather than legislation and regulation. While nearly 60 per cent of respondents preferred some form of financial assistance, less than 25 per cent listed economic factors as the key barrier to adoption. The study results indicate that increased extension, and applied research into the refinement of conservation technologies may offer more potential for increasing adoption than increased reliance on financial incentives.


Evaluation Summary

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

The intent of this study was to determine for the SWEEP area: the nature and extent of the adoption of conservation technology; the barriers to adoption; and, the preferences for policy options to address these.

The literature review provided a detailed and comprehensive framework for this multidisciplinary study. Mailed questionnaires, interviews with non-respondents and secondary data were used to conduct the study in the counties of Kent and Oxford. Binary methods of data collection (yes/no) were used to ascertain level of adoption: ordinal approaches (sliding scales) would have provided more information. The data were analyzed by using tabulations, summaries of qualitative data, calculations of soil erodibility and multivariate techniques to compare responses of producers grouped by likelihood for adoption.

The results included the perceptions of the respondents together with the relation of responses to personal, business and biophysical characteristics. Respondents stated their reasons for adoption (in descending order of importance) as: a long-term investment; to address immediate resource degradation problems; to lower production costs; to improve soil resources; and, an orientation towards stewardship. The following features had significant influence on adoption: farm size, awareness and perception of problems, age of producer, membership in farm organizations, concerns about the environment and land ownership. Respondents stated that their barriers to adoption included:

  • no need for change;

  • inadequacy of technologies;

  • financial; and

  • difficulty of incorporating changes in existing systems.

Other features from the database were inferred to be related to barriers to adoption such as lack of land, lack of capital, age, and may include failure to recognize problems, lack of knowledge and lack of concern. The farmers interviewed identified prerequisites for adoption such as verification that the technologies work, higher profits in agriculture, financial and technical assistance, and demonstrated need for change.


For producers

  • money is not the only barrier to change (see above)

  • pride or knowledge are likely barriers to change on the farm

  • your neighbours change for economic, environmental and personal reasons

  • soil conservation is not just for cash croppers

  • learn more about a "systems" approach and develop one for your operation

  • learn from others - get involved - support your local Soil and Crop Improvement Association

For government agencies

  • education and technical assistance (including technology development) are specified and inferred prerequisites to change

  • financial assistance is important but cannot be independent of education and technical assistance

  • continue to foster systems approach to development and extension work

  • focus on those most able/likely to change

  • technologies must work before farmers will implement them

For researchers

  • comprehensive literature reviews are a prerequisite to effective research

  • integrated approaches provide more applicable results

Associated SWEEP/LSP Research:

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

  • SWEEP Report #7 - Sources of Motivation in the Adoption of Conservation Tillage

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

  • LSP7008 - Differences in Soil Conservation between Operator-Owned and Rented Land

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

(C) This approach is appropriate for further research regarding other areas in agriculture and environmental quality. A follow-up or complementary study to examine the adoption of waste, pest, water and nutrient management would provide useful direction for future programming.





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Created: 05-28-1996
Last Revised: Thursday, May 19, 2011 01:15:05 PM