Power of peers: How effective are Indiana farmer networks?
Several formal farmer networks have emerged throughout the Midwest to address the issue of nitrogen runoff and eutrophication. In Indiana, the On-Farm Network and Adapt Network attempt to enable farmers to learn together about improved nitrogen management practices. The goal of this study is to determine the effectiveness of these formal farmer networks. The research was guided by two main questions; (1) Are farmers who participate in the networks actually implementing better nutrient management practices? (2) Are participating farmers spreading their knowledge of better nutrient management practices to other farmers outside the formal networks? Interviews with select network members were conducted in early 2014 and a mail survey of the 250 network members was conducted in the summer of 2014. Survey results were compared to the results of a statewide Indiana Nutrient Management Survey conducted during the winter of 2014. The results show that network farmers vary significantly from non-network farmers in multiple ways. Network farmers have more positive attitudes towards water quality, perceive water pollution as a more severe problem, and utilize more conservation practices than non-network farmers. Network farmers also vary in demographic characteristics. These network farmers were not different because of their involvement in the networks, but appear to have been different from non-network farmers prior to their involvement in the networks. Few farmers say that they have changed their nitrogen management practices because of what they have learned through their involvement with a network. Diffusion of nutrient management practices outside the networks seems very limited. . The findings do not suggest that farmer networks are a bad idea, but rather point to ways that they can be improved. For example, instead of targeting the farmers who have already adopted improved nitrogen management practices, a more effective arrangement would be to find a handful of progressive, influential farmers in each group and surround them with farmers who need to adopt better nitrogen management practices. The few progressive farmers serve as examples to the others, and the farmers that need help receive the data and assistance they need to improve their farming practices. Another recommendation is to increase the number of group meetings during the year. One meeting is insufficient to build the trust and report necessary for farmers to accept and adopt the technologies being shared by others. Finally, outreach should focus on economic arguments for improved nitrogen management. The network farmers are motivated by economics than environmental concerns and outreach efforts should reflect that.
Prokopy, Purdue University.
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