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SWEEP Report #70

Implementation of Conservation Systems
(PWS Report #2)

Ecologistics Ltd., Waterloo, Ont.

Executive Summary

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Completed: May, 1994

Executive Summary

1.0 Introduction

The mandate of the Soil and Water Environmental Enhancement Program (SWEEP) was to reduce phosphorus loadings to the Lake Erie basin and to maintain or improve agricultural productivity by reducing or correcting soil erosion and degradation. Conservation cropping and tillage systems were identified as the best means to achieve these goals over such a wide geographic region as the Lake Erie watershed. The Pilot Watershed Study (PWS) was developed as a means of evaluating the impact of conservation systems on soil erosion and degradation, water quality and crop production when implemented on a watershed basis.

The development and successful implementation of integrated phosphorus and soil management strategies in agricultural areas is a complex undertaking. Because climate and geology are not manageable parameters in most instances, management of nutrient export and soil erosion in the agricultural environment tends to focus on the structural and non-structural erosion control practices which can be implemented by individual farmers. The potential to reduce nutrient runoff, soil erosion and degradation, as well as factors including ease of implementation, farm community acceptance, agricultural productivity and agricultural cost must all be considered in developing workable control options.

2.0 Objectives

The components of the study documented in this report relate to the following objectives and strategies developed by the study contractors in keeping with the general objectives of the project.
  • To achieve a high level of adoption of the most appropriate soil and water conservation practices among farm operators utilizing lands in the test watersheds.

    Strategy: Develop and utilize improved soil and water conservation planning tools for application at the farm and watershed levels.

    Develop and utilize contract arrangements with cooperating farm operators which specify and compensate for participation in the project without "buying" their participation.

  • To determine the nature and degree of changes in relevant soil and water quality parameters and crop yields as influenced by "basin-wide" soil and water practices.

    Strategy: Develop and apply mechanisms to encourage adoption of soil and water conservation practices throughout the life of the project in the test watersheds and to discourage adoption in the control watersheds.

    Evaluate improvements to planning tools (models) achieved during the sub-program. Evaluate factors that affect the adoption of soil and water conservation practices and that influence farmer attitudes towards both the practices and the goals of the sub-program.

  • To prepare information about the sub-program activities and results and to transmit this to participating farmers and other related SWEEP sub-programs.

    Strategy: Collect and transmit, as required, to the SWEEP sub-program contractor responsible for the farm-level and basin-wide economic analysis.

    Prepare information on activities and results for the communications sub-program contractor.

    Prepare periodic reports to cooperating farmers on activities and results in written and meeting formats.

3.0 Methodology

To achieve the objectives of the PWS it was evident from the outset that a high degree of interaction between the project proponents and the landowners/farm managers operating within the targeted watersheds was required. Because the project proposed the adoption of conservation practices within the test watersheds a teaching or extension approach was necessary to first increase awareness and identification of the problems and then to encourage the successful adoption of suitable solutions. The strategy used to implement the study was guided by the proactive nature of the PWS and was formulated on the basis of an adoption incentive package and a recognition of the human dimensions to providing technical support in any extension program.

The provision of incentives and technical support was designed to:

  • lessen the risk or perceived risk associated with new management practices:
  • encourage cooperators to be as open as possible to a variety of new practices which were consistent with their own conservation objectives and farm management systems; and
  • compensate for project-related learning, inconveniences, and potential out-of-pocket costs.
A conscious effort was made to ensure that incentives to participate in the study were provided to both test and control cooperators and that these incentives did not distort the basic economic motivations that govern farm operations by "buying" participation.

As a result the implementation of the PWS was achieved by providing the cooperators with access to:

  • information,
  • experience,
  • conservation equipment, and
  • financial assistance.

4.0 Conclusions

  • The approach and process used during the implementation phase of the PWS was appropriate. Results indicate that study objectives were met.
Information and Education:
  • The project newsletter was critical to keeping all cooperators and other interested parties informed about the project on a regular basis. Survey results indicated that all cooperators read the newsletter at least sometimes with a majority reading it always.
  • The provision of printed material about conservation practices and issues from a variety of sources increased the interest of cooperators and advanced the adoption process. Provision of a one year subscription to the magazine Successful Farming caused many favourable remarks from the cooperators and resulted in renewed subscriptions paid by the farmers themselves.
  • A responsive technical support system was important to maintaining cooperator interest in adopting conservation practices.
  • Meetings, workshops and tours were very important educational tools in the PWS. When asked for input producers indicated a preference for tours to see solutions in practice and meetings with a specific management theme using recognized speakers. During and following the above an increased enthusiasm and interest in conservation practices was often observed amongst the attending cooperators.
  • Social functions incorporated in the PWS were useful but not critical to building a working relationship between project staff and cooperators. Socializing between project staff and cooperators occurred during meetings, workshops and especially tours. Although the aim of the social functions that were organized early in the PWS was to foster a family and community involvement in the project the absence of these appeared not to be missed during the latter stages of the study in two of the three pairs of watersheds.
  • Community interest increased as the project proceeded. Study staff and cooperators were asked to give presentations and host visitors.
Benefits Package:
  • See PWS report Evaluation of Conservation Systems: Cooperator Attitude Change.
  • In the PWS, as a proactive, targeted project where results were required within a relatively short adoption timeframe, an incentives component including access to information, experience, specialized equipment and financial assistance was required.

    Without the above tools to encourage immediate cooperator participation in the PWS project staff felt that several more years would have been required to achieve the objectives of the project.

  • The objectives and timeframe of the project influenced the allocation of resources between and within the different incentives.

    For example achieving a change in crop rotation patterns was not feasible within the PWS and was therefore not emphasized. Significant resources were allocated to providing a complete technical support service to cooperators in order to reduce potential short term adoption risks. In a longer term project the emphasis on these and other items in the incentive component would shift.

  • Having completed the implementation phase of the original study, the allocation of resources was appropriate to meet the objectives.

    Comments provided by the cooperators and project staff indicated a general satisfaction with the benefits package. (See also PWS report Evaluation of Conservation Systems: Cooperator Attitude Change.)

Cooperator Agreements and Compensation Payments:
  • The agreement and compensation schedule used in the PWS were appropriate for the purposes they were intended to serve. The initial content and format of the agreement, amendments and compensation schedule changed very little throughout the PWS and few problems arose between the cooperators and the study.
  • When compared to the cooperator commitment created through the project implementation process the agreement was much less useful in this regard. The agreement did serve to involve spouses and offset liability concerns.
Conservation Farm Planning:
  • Using a conservation farm planning approach which considered both on-site (farm level) and off-site (watershed level) erosion and sedimentation impacts was a unique feature of the approach used in the PWS.
  • GAMES, through its use of the USLE, could model sheet and rill erosion losses only. Modelling gully erosion was not possible with GAMES. Neither was it capable of modelling erosion by tillage displacement of soil, which research in Ontario has shown to be a significant factor in affecting soil productivity.

    This weakness in GAMES was overcome somewhat by making crude assumptions in the effectiveness of a structure and adjusting sediment delivery pathways to reflect this assumption. For example, terraces were assumed to be 100 percent effective in settling out sediment. Catchbasins were assumed to have no settling affect and would actually improve delivery once the water entered the tile system.

    As a result of using the USLE factors it was difficult to model subtle changes landowners made in cropping/management practices. For example, converting from a fall moldboard plough system to a full modified moldboard plough (cut-offs) system was a positive measure taken by cooperators to increase soil residue cover. It was difficult, however, to model this change in residue management simply through the C-Factor.

    A series of tables were prepared for determining C factors for a variety of crops and residue levels to better model the small changes in residue level remaining on the fields following planting. If residue levels were between the levels provided on the C factor sheets, an interpolated C factor was used.

  • Only erosion and sedimentation components of the planning process were considered by the analysis model. The economic and other aspects were left to the planners to evaluate using other tools and/or their own experience.
  • Defining the target erosion and sediment delivery rates proved difficult. Target erosion rates were better defined once the 1989 water quality data became available. The exercise of selecting applicable targets for all watersheds illustrated the inappropriateness of a single rule-of-thumb target for erosion and sediment delivery in consideration of the variety of landscapes in Ontario.
  • The GAMES analysis gave planners important background data with which to initiate farm planning discussions. Because of the capacity to model on a specific polygon basis, it was possible for planners to address erosion sensitive areas as well to plan on a field-by-field basis.
  • The Lotus spreadsheet derived from GAMES and the Farm Planning Module (FPM) output allowed quick comparisons of alternative conservation solutions so that cooperators could test their preferences and more easily adjust the effect of practices. For example, chisel points versus chisel sweeps could be compared by simply adjusting the residue levels which could be expected.
  • The GAMES analysis allowed users to test the effect field management decisions would have on water quality at the watershed outlet. The presentation of the data, however, remained at the field scale - the management unit.
  • The 1990 and 1991 Lotus spreadsheet approach provided an efficient means of recording conservation plans for the next crop year.
  • The approach used computer analysis tools but left it with one-to-one contact between the cooperator and PWS field staff to make experienced decisions. This avoided cookbook solutions and encouraged innovation.
  • The primary weakness at the field discussion level of planning was the sensitivity gap between knowing precisely what field situations were versus what was reported in the GAMES information. The field staff who were making recommendations to the farmer cooperator had been provided with a great deal of helpful information but lacked the familiarity and experience with the land that the cooperator possessed. It was, therefore occasionally difficult to answer questions raised by cooperators and sometimes required time consuming (but necessary) additional site visits to the area (polygon) of concern.
  • Field discussions in conservation farm planning were an obvious necessity. In this project they had some additional peripheral benefits as well:
    1. They provided an opportunity for cooperators to raise, and often resolve, concerns about the use of new practices.
    2. They provided an opportunity for PWS field staff to establish a common identity with cooperators in addressing the objectives of the project.
    3. They provided an opportunity for cooperators to discuss or suggest ways to make the project more acceptable, a necessary first step if an effective plan was to follow, and an opportunity for cooperators to gain ownership in the project.
Indicators of Adoption:
  • In the PWS the social indicators of adoption were monitored by documenting the attitudinal change experienced by the cooperators. The reader is referred to the PWS report Evaluation of Conservation Systems: Cooperator Attitude Change for more information.
  • The short term economic indicators of adoption in the PWS were embodied in the planning and adoption decisions of the cooperators. It may be assumed that continued adoption of a given practice meant that in the short term the cooperator did not experience a large enough negative impact, including economic, to cause him to change his mind about proceeding.
  • An inventory of physical change does not indicate how effectively the changes were implemented with resulting impacts on soil movement and water quality.
  • Across all test watersheds the number of potential conservation actions identified during the planning sessions each year ranged from 51 to 72 discrete actions. Over the three years documented, on average approximately half of the identified actions were planned for at the beginning of each crop year (August/September). The high degree of uncertainty in making plans reflected mainly the impacts of weather and the effect this had on farming activities. Many producers were unwilling to make a commitment they were unsure of keeping. Without exception across all years and watersheds the percentage of completed conservation actions was greater than what was planned for.
  • Future program planners may anticipate an increase in actual adoption when compared with initial indications obtained through the planning process.
  • In Essex and Kettle there was a definite general shift during the project toward the use of conservation tillage systems. In the Pittock watershed the nature of the adoption trends for conservation tillage systems were less clear. There was little doubt, however, that a positive shift occurred in the adoption of conservation tillage systems.
  • In most cases the PWS acted as the catalyst and/or means by which cooperators were able to implement conservation buffers, seed critical areas and build structures. The continued presence of these control practices to the end of the project and beyond (especially with regard to the structures) served as a useful indicator of adoption.
  • In general those buffers and critical areas considered important to achieving PWS objectives were implemented by cooperators. The prioritization of the structures for project purposes meant that cooperators were more likely to install high priority structures first. The greatest adoption in this regard was achieved in the Kettle watershed. In Essex and Pittock, where the visual impact of the problems was less striking, the cooperators implemented less than half of the structures suggested.

5.0 Recommendations

  • Future proactive and targeted programs should incorporate all of the elements of the incentive package described herein.
  • Future proactive and targeted programs should ensure that staff working directly with producers are knowledgeable and experienced in the adoption of conservation farming systems.
Information and Education:
  • Educational material should be provided and/or available from a variety of sources including both the project, the scientific literature and the popular press. This would expose the cooperators to a range of viewpoints and should add supporting evidence to the ideas promoted by the project.
  • Information material regarding the project should be current, relevant and frequent enough to maintain the interest of the participants. A clear language writing style is important to enhance communication. A project newsletter can serve this purpose well.
  • Technical support must be responsive to cooperator needs especially regarding specific information (e.g. what herbicide to use under certain circumstances) and timeliness (e.g. when a question is raised a response or recommendation is often required immediately). For best results an "on-call" technical support system is desirable.
  • Input from project cooperators regarding the content of the information and education component is recommended. Producers will identify those areas of interest and methods of learning that are of most use to them. This input allows the cooperators to guide the project in addressing their changing concerns about adopting conservation practices. It also gives project staff insight into what practices cooperators may initially be most responsive to adopting.
  • Whenever possible visits to farm operations practicing conservation measures should be encouraged. In contrast experienced conservation farmers should be invited to meet with cooperators on a regular basis to discuss their specific needs. If possible this should be done at least once during a walk over the farm.
  • To help ensure adequate attendance at general project meetings the reason and need for the meeting should be well defined. A special interest event or guest speaker in conjunction with the meeting will also encourage attendance.
  • If resources allow, social events should be incorporated into those programs where the target group of cooperators is well defined. These events however could be organized in conjunction with other project activities; for example a banquet or barbecue held in conjunction with the annual meeting.
  • If a project is visible, community interest will exist. Satisfying requests and even seeking out opportunities to discuss the study can build a sense of achievement in the participants and provide a forum for positive feedback. It is recommended that these opportunities be recognized for their value in aiding the adoption process. If resources permit, a proactive community information component should be incorporated into the project plan. At the very least resources should be allocated to serving community requests when they occur.
  • When asking cooperators to give presentations and host visitors on behalf of the project, care should be taken to distribute the requests across a number of cooperators. The tendency is to repeatedly call on the natural leaders in the group instead of giving the less outspoken cooperators an opportunity to participate in this experience.
Benefits Package:
  • See PWS report Evaluation of Conservation Systems: Cooperator Attitude Change.
  • The benefits provided to cooperators should be categorized into those required to meet the projects objectives and those required to meet the cooperators' objectives. Each category should be annually evaluated as to the ongoing usefulness of each. In some cases this would result in project resources being reallocated or decreased if apparent usefulness or effectiveness is low.

    For example the PWS newsletter included conservation article reprints as a way to continue introducing conservation ideas and practices to cooperators. In the final survey however cooperators did not find this service useful. Crop scouting services were provided to help cooperators meet their objective to adopt conservation practices with as little risk as possible. Apparently however few farmers used the information on a frequent basis. Crop scouting services provided on a request basis would have met the needs of those wanting the service and allowed either a reallocation of resources or a decrease in project costs.

  • Project staff working directly with the cooperators should possess at least three years experience working as an extension specialist promoting the adoption of conservation farming systems. A farm background would be an asset. The credibility and practicality of the "front line" personnel are key to the success of the project.
  • Backup technical assistance should be allowed for to maintain the timeliness of response to cooperator needs.
  • Project staff turnover can have a negative effect on project progress from a technical support standpoint. This potential problem should be recognized and efforts made to minimize its occurrence and/or impact.
Cooperator Agreements and Compensation Payments:
  • Care should be taken to keep formal agreements as simple as possible while ensuring they fulfil the purpose for which they were intended.
  • Compensation payments made on an annual basis will save time and resources when compared to payments made on an instalment basis. This saving probably offsets the early financial benefit (or incentive) cooperators receive for participating in the study when the instalment plan is used.
Conservation Farm Planning:
  • The need for a compendium of C factor tables applicable to Ontario should be examined. Such a document would assist in standardizing the estimates used for modelling and farm planning purposes.
Indicators of Adoption:
  • Indicators of adoption should be identified at the outset of a program so that appropriate baseline data can be collected.



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Created: 05-28-1996
Last Revised: Thursday, May 19, 2011 07:25:18 PM