An inductive model of farmer conservation decision making for nitrogen management

Bjorn Olson, Mae A Davenport

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


This study explores the drivers of and constraints to conservation decision making and practice adoption among agricultural producers in two impaired Minnesota watersheds in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. Concerns about nutrient management and nonpoint source nitrogen loading in the region prompted the study. Data were gathered through in-depth interviews with 30 farmers operating in the watersheds. Qualitative data analysis revealed multiple interacting drivers and constraints to conservation decision making and supported an inductive conceptual model anchored in three spheres of decision making: farming ethic, conservation practice appraisal, and conservation action. Finer descriptive analysis focused on the first two spheres revealed varying beliefs, levels of focus, and saliency involving dynamic thought processes of conservation decision making. Farming ethic encompassed multiple dimensions of farmer identity and values, social norms of farm management, and personal norms of conservation action. Appraisal dimensions were tied to resources, practice efficacy, risk and uncertainty, and autonomy. The model will enable policy makers and resource managers to better plan, design and manage conservation policies and programs. Study findings can inform nutrient management and enable better alignment with farmer decision-making processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)59-73
Number of pages15
JournalLandscape Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017


  • Agriculture
  • Best management practices
  • Nitrogen
  • Water resource conservation


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