Cover crop adoption in Iowa: The role of perceived practice characteristics

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Arbuckle, J. G.
Roesch-McNally, G.
Arbuckle, J. Gordon
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Extension and Outreach
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Extension and OutreachSociology

Cover crops are widely viewed by the soil and water conservation community to be an effective means for reducing soil erosion and nutrient loss and increasing soil health, yet relatively few farmers have adopted the practice. Despite the widespread recognition of cover crops' benefits and increased promotional efforts, there have been very few peer-reviewed studies focused on farmer perspectives on or adoption of cover crops. This study, which analyzed data from a survey and in-depth interviews with Iowa farmers, examined the roles that perceived practice characteristics, perspectives on potential facilitating factors, and crop and livestock diversity play in cover crop adoption among Iowa farmers. As expected, perceived benefits were strongly associated with cover crop use. Measures of crop and livestock diversity were also positive predictors of adoption. In addition, farmers who endorsed strengthening of facilitating factors such as educational and technological infrastructure to support cover crop use were more likely to have adopted cover crops. Farmers who perceived higher levels of risks associated with cover crop use, on the other hand, were less likely to use them. Results suggest that research and promotional efforts should focus on both raising awareness of potential benefits and quantifying and communicating potential risks and risk abatement strategies. Helping farmers to better understand (1) the benefits of cover crops and how they can be enhanced, and (2) the potential risks and ways that they can be minimized might allow farmers to more effectively weigh the probable benefits and costs of cover crop use. The findings further suggest that farmers believe that better facilitating infrastructure, in the form of technical assistance (e.g., agricultural retailers and custom operators) and education, is needed to support the widespread adoption of cover crops.


This article is published as Arbuckle, J. Gordon, and G. Roesch-McNally. "Cover crop adoption in Iowa: The role of perceived practice characteristics." Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 70, no. 6 (2015): 418-429. doi: 10.2489/jswc.70.6.418. Posted with permission.