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Governing best management practices: The effect of information-based policy tools on California farmers’ nitrogen management

Authors: Liza Wood*, University of California, Davis, Jessica Rudnick, University of California, Davis, Mark Lubell, University of California, Davis
Topics: Environment
Keywords: governance, innovation diffusion, nitrogen management
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2020
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual Track 9
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The current understanding of what motivates farmers to adopt best management practices (BMPs) is guided primarily by individual-level variables. Far less attention has been paid to the institutional context, particularly how different governance schemes influence farmer behavior. In California, regional Water Quality Coalitions support farmers in the process of mandatory plan-writing, serving as a hybrid of collaboration and soft regulation to reduce nitrogen pollution. Using survey data from over 900 farmers across three Coalitions in California’s central valley, we analyze the role of this governance scheme in facilitating adoption of BMPs. Specifically, this paper considers two dependent variables: total adoption of practices and whether or not farmers report having changed their farm management in response to Coalition participation. Results show that high-adopting farmers are of a radically different profile than farmers who reported having changed management practices. High-adopters represent farmers with more resources and environmental information streams, while these “changers” represent farmers with fewer resources and more conservative information streams. Our results indicate that participation in programs requiring farmers to reflect on their practices have a positive effect on management, specifically among groups of farmers that might not otherwise have the resources or disposition to increase adoption. These findings contribute a unique perspective on innovation diffusion theory for BMPs, as we evaluate change and adoption of both laggards and innovators for a more nuanced understanding of motivations and the role of governance schemes across farmer subgroups.

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