- Ecologistics Ltd., Waterloo, Ont.
View / Download Final Report
[760 KB pdf] (appendices not included)
Completed: May, 1994
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 a wide geographic region such as the
Lake Erie watershed. The Pilot Watershed study (PWS) was developed as a
means of evaluating the impact on conservation systems on soil erosion
and degradation, water quality and crop production when implemented.
Maximizing farm operator participation in
soil erosion and sediment control programs is essential to achieving
improvements in water quality and sustainable levels of crop production
in areas where pollution occurs from agricultural runoff. High
participation rates in localized areas were particularly crucial in the
Pilot Watershed Study (PWS) where implementation of conservation
practices by cooperators in the test sub-watershed was key to
discovering whether or not long-term improvements in soil, water and
crop production parameters would occur, relative to those in the control
At the same time that soil and water
quality-related benefits were important to demonstrate in the Pilot
Watershed Study, it was also necessary to evaluate factors that affected
the adoption of soil and water conservation practices and influenced
farmer attitudes towards these practices. In the short-term,
understanding why a farmer chose to adopt, adapt or reject a particular
practice provided the basis for adjusting program delivery on a
day-to-day basis. In the post-PWS era, such findings can contribute to
the effective design, targeting and implementation of other soil and
water conservation initiatives.
The longitudinal nature of the PWS provided
the opportunity to explore a number of research objectives relating to
conservation attitude change over time. These included:
- to obtain cooperator perceptions of
on-farm soil erosion and local water quality change over the life span
of the project;
- to determine the changes which
occurred in cooperator attitude toward the merits of conservation
practices and their own willingness to accept risk related to
implementing conservation practices;
- to track the main reasons cooperators
decided to continue to work with or discontinue the use of specific
conservation practices over time and across types of enterprise;
- to determine cooperator perceptions of
effectiveness of individual conservation practices in controlling
erosion, of practice impact on crop yields and farm profitability and
the extent to which the practice is accepted in the community;
- to determine the degree to which the
cooperators have "owned" the soil erosion problem and its resolution.
Tracking attitudinal change took several
different forms throughout the life span of the PWS. The majority of
data collection efforts focussed on personal interviews of the
cooperators. These surveys served to collect baseline data (June 1988),
midpoint, equipment use, and end-of-project data (January 1992).
Watershed technicians also collected additional ongoing, qualitative
attitude change data in their regular contacts with the cooperators.
Data were analyzed at a number of
different levels, including: pairs of test and control sub-watersheds;
among all three test sub-watersheds, and; grouped test versus grouped
Cross-sectional (point-in-time) and
longitudinal (ongoing through time) analyses were conducted for relevant
variables in assessing attitude change over time. Where longitudinal
analyses were conducted, only those cooperators responding to both the
baseline survey and the concluding survey were included in the data set
to ensure that the findings reflected accurately and consistently,
individual attitude change over the full course of the project.
The conclusions are grouped as follows:
cooperator perception of the problem and the general merits of soil
conservation; factors affecting adoption; perception of practice
effectiveness; factors inherent to the PWS itself, and; suggestions for
Cooperator Perception of the Soil Erosion
Problem/Merits of Soil Conservation
In all three test sub-watersheds in 1992,
there was a trend toward disagreement with the statement, "costs to the
farmer of soil conservation are greater than the on-farm benefits",
relative to how they responded in 1988. This suggested that positive
experiences shaped their thinking over the four years, to the point
where net returns/farm profitability for virtually all conservation
practices were viewed positively.
- Recognition of soil degradation as a
problem on cooperator farms appeared to be an important prerequisite
to obtaining consistent farmer interest and response;
- Implementation of erosion control
measures resulted in test cooperators perceiving slightly less erosion
on their farms in 1992 relative to 1988. Conversely, control
cooperators as a group perceived slightly more erosion happening on
their farms over the same time period. Control cooperators probably
became sensitized to the erosion problem as a result of the PWS, but
did not receive the encouragement to implement measures within the
watershed boundaries to alleviate the problem.
- There is evidence that cooperators in
general, affirmed the overall concept of soil and water conservation.
In all sub-watersheds, cooperators agreed that "conserving soil and
water is a good investment for their area".
Factors Affecting Adoption
- Cooperators' reasoning for choice of
conservation practice varied by watershed and over time. In Kettle,
where soil erosion was most obvious and where the expressed need for
erosion control was the greatest, there remained a continuing desire
to do what is right for the land resource (biophysical reasons).
Having installed structures, Kettle cooperators demonstrated a growing
appreciation for the positive economic benefits of the no-till
cropping system in particular, in order to complement the work of the
structures. Essex cooperators shifted away from biophysical reasoning
to a focus on economic and farm management concerns over the life of
the PWS. In Pittock, there appeared to be a growing appreciation of
benefits to the land resource, but less consideration of economics as
a motivating force.
- Motivation for practice implementation
initially required experimentation with practices farmers were most
familiar with and which were most easily incorporated into farming
systems. In both Kettle and Essex, initial discussions and
experimentation centered around modifications to the moldboard plow.
Practice introduction time was reduced by building on practices
farmers were familiar with, and by being ready to suggest or respond
to requests for technical guidance on the more complicated
conservation practices as they arose.
Initial emphasis on structures on long
slopes in Kettle seemed an appropriate starting point for some
conservation discussions. After the structures were installed, several
cooperators noted sediment build-ups in the ponded areas behind the
berms. This prompted serious consideration of no-till practices to
minimize soil movement off the fields.
- The time required for practice
adoption appears to remain a highly variable and individually-oriented
factor. Farm enterprises with livestock manures needing incorporation,
or with certain specialty cash crops (e.g. white/coloured beans) were
most hesitant to consider conservation cropping systems that included
no-till. Very large, diversified farm enterprises with tight crop
planting and harvesting schedules did not want to "bother" with
scheduling the use of PWS equipment and time to keep field records.
On the other hand, cooperators who
enjoyed modifying and fine-tuning management systems tended to be more
patient in working with the more complicated alternative tillage and
cropping practices. Timing of technician input was important,
particularly where weather was a factor and where the cooperator was
open to integrating alternative tillage practices with structural
control measures. Access to the PWS equipment was a crucial component
in encouraging practice adoption. Farm tours in Ontario and beyond
served to stimulate and reinforce adoption behaviour.
In general, cooperators agreed that
five to ten years is a realistic time frame to achieve a satisfactory
comfort level with integration of conservation planter equipment into
their management systems. Cooperators generally considered three years
adequate for the conservation drill.
Perception of Practice Effectiveness
- Test cooperators had a high regard for
the effectiveness of the conservation practices they have implemented
for limiting soil loss. For others who perceive they have a problem,
this can serve as a strong motivating force.
- Test cooperators were generally
neutral or slightly positive about practice effects on crop yields.
They were almost always more positive with respect to "effects on
profitability". This bodes well for future adoption as cooperators
appeared to be acknowledging the net financial benefits of
implementation of even the less familiar practices.
- Test cooperators in Essex and Kettle
had a substantially more positive view of the community acceptance of
no-till practices in 1992 relative to 1991. Peer support can
contribute to higher adoption rates.
Factors Inherent to the PWS
- Several cooperators, particularly in
Pittock, raised the issue of their own lack of understanding of
project design and goals from the outset. It is possible that
cooperators who missed one or more of the early orientation meetings
were not personally updated on meeting content and therefore developed
certain misconceptions about the project (eg. water quality monitoring
results to be potentially used against them).
- The PWS did not provide for
designation of a cooperator spokesperson or a small committee to whom
project participants could take their concerns and suggestions. This
could have served a purpose in providing a "safe place" for
cooperators to negotiate disputes and provide a sense of continuity
when changes in technical staff occurred.
- Some interest was expressed in both
Essex and Pittock in lowering herbicide use and promoting "ecological"
agriculture. Specifically, band spraying combined with inter-row
cultivation was mentioned as a technique that the PWS could not
provide equipment for, or had few technical or financial resources to
use in support of these ideas.
- Few resources were allocated to
dissemination of PWS experience beyond the boundaries of the
watersheds. Wider community support for, and understanding of
conservation initiatives may have been engendered by such promotion.
However, some local organizations gave some profile
(conservation/production awards) to selected conservation farmers
whose experience was built through the PWS.
Cooperator Perspectives on Post-PWS
Conservation Intentions and Future Programming
- There appeared to be interest in
maintaining or increasing acreage of crops under selected conservation
practices in each of the watersheds. The focus is expected to be on
no-till in Kettle and Essex, along with some increase in cropping
systems practices (e.g. winter cover crop grown for crop or tilled in
spring). Fewer cooperators in the Pittock watershed were choosing to
expand no-till practices; rather, there appeared to be a reliance on
cropping systems practices.
- The most frequently cited kinds of
support required to enable continuation of cooperator conservation
goals post-PWS included:
- money from better crop prices and
through financial assistance programs;
- availability of equipment at low
cost, as it is too expensive to buy;
- continued technical support.
- In future programming, cooperators
suggested the following approaches:
- a low key, non-threatening approach
where the farmers help set the agenda, similar to the PWS approach;
- take prospective cooperators on
tours to see first hand how other people are working with the
specific techniques, and thus provide motivation;
- keep cooperators up-to-date with
project findings along the way;
- ensure technical support is based in
the local community;
- where possible, involve cooperators
in environmental monitoring or other field testing exercises.
Recommendations applicable to other
conservation programming initiatives where accelerated adoption rates
are sought, are noted below:
- Determine from potential cooperators,
whether they perceive a soil erosion problem, and whether they are
willing to try to correct it. Also, ensure that they are presented
with current information about the soil conserving attributes and
economic benefits of the conservation measures they are being asked to
consider to alleviate the problem.
- Whenever cooperators are unable to
attend project information sessions particularly at project start-up,
contact each cooperator to ensure they get the same information as
everyone else. This will minimize the possibilities of
misunderstandings arising related to project intentions and
- Wherever possible, include peer
support mechanisms for promoting newer practices such as no-till.
These may include visits to other conservation farms of similar
enterprise types where exposure to proven techniques can occur, or
participation in technical workshops, seminars or demonstration sites.
- Ensure that adequate technical support
is available locally, and that access to equipment at critical
cropping phases does not pose a constraint to experimentation with
- Ensure that cooperators have a "safe
place" where they feel comfortable taking their project-specific
concerns. This may require setting up a cooperator committee as a
sounding board where potential disputes can be resolved and where
continuity can be maintained should change in technical staff occur.
- In future programming, use a low-key,
non-threatening approach to project design and implementation where
farmers help set the agenda. The farm management system and
enterprise-specific conservation needs and constraints must be
addressed with each cooperator.
Thursday, May 19, 2011 07:30:23 PM