Predicting Farmer Adoption of Water Conservation Practices Using a Norm-based Moral Obligation Model

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This study examines the social-psychological drivers of conservation practice adoption among farmers in Minnesota. Specifically, it applies a moral obligation model to understand farmer decision-making related to water resource management, focusing in particular on conservation tillage and drainage management. Data were collected through a self-administered mail survey of 1500 landowners in two subwatersheds of the Red River Basin: Wild Rice River and Middle Snake-Tamarac Rivers. Data were analyzed using structural equation modeling. Study results demonstrate that farmers’ decisions to adopt conservation practices are influenced by personal norms and perceived ability to protect water resources. Further, beliefs about personal responsibility for water protection, and perceived ability to protect water resources activate personal norms of water protection. Collectivistic and biosphere-altruistic values serve as the basis for the activation of personal norms. Study findings suggest that a combination of behavioral intervention strategies that provide tailored information about local water resource problems, appeal to farmers’ values, sense of responsibility and personal obligation, and enhance farmers’ ability to use conservation practices may be effective in achieving higher levels of conservation practice adoption.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)483-496
Number of pages14
JournalEnvironmental management
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.


  • Best management practices (BMPs)
  • Farmer decision-making
  • Land use/land cover change
  • Nonpoint source pollution
  • Watershed management


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