Sociological water quality research: quantifying factors at multiple scales that influence farmers to shift from being potential to actual adopters of conservation practices

Sep 2022


There is increasing awareness that in-field and edge-of-filed conservation practices in agriculture improve water quality and other ecosystem services, including the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, despite decades of major outreach, extension and conservation endeavors, governmental and non-governmental organizations promoting these voluntary conservation practices still have difficulties getting farmers to adopt them. Most of the existing adoption studies typically measure whether a farmer uses a practice or not. By lumping all non-adopters into a single category, typical adoption studies miss the opportunity to examine potential adopters who may be open to or interested in adopting conservation practices. A better understanding of farmers' conservation practices and adoption behavior is essential to successfully implementing outreach interventions that improve water quality and other ecosystem outputs.


This project aims to understand which factors influence farmers to shift from potential to actual adopters of conservation practices.


Researcheres will use data from two high-quality surveys of Iowa farmers, the Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll (IFRLP) and the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (INRS) farmer survey, to understand the factors that predict shifts between non-adoption, potential adoption and actual adoption categories over time. By learning which factors predict shifts from the potential adopter of conservation practices to the adopter, they will develop a more comprehensive understanding of farmers' adoption processes so that the knowledge can be integrated into extension and outreach programs to encourage higher adoption of conservation practices in Iowa and beyond.

Award Number: 

Project Updates

Note: Project reports published on the INRC website are often revised from researchers' original reports to increase consistency.

January 2024

Project leaders recruited new team members Zhengyuan Zhu, Hao Sun and Laurie Nowatzke to assist with analysis and writing.

Analyzed Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS) farmer survey data on farmers' use of cover crops and no-till over time. Working on a manuscript from NRS data. Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll 2023 data collected, developed longitudinal database.

Other Activities

10 presentations.


July 2023

During this project period, researchers:

- Mapped out how to use Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS) Survey data.

- Administered Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll 2023.

- Currently analyzing NRS data