Examination of the factors which influence farmers’ intentions towards the implementation of nutrient management planning
Nutrients such as Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K) and other micronutrients such as such as magnesium, manganese and cobalt, are essential for the continued growth of global agricultural production. These nutrients are typically applied to agricultural fields in the form of synthetic fertiliser and/or manure. However, if not used efficiently, the risk of loss to water courses and the atmosphere can increase. Inefficient use has led to global deteriorations in water quality, algal blooms, fish kills and contributed to greenhouse gas emissions. Poor management of nutrients is one important reason contributing to the inefficient use of nutrients on farms. Key issues include the over application of the wrong nutrient source to fields that do not require it, using the wrong rate at the wrong time. Under application of nutrients is also an issue as this has been associated with the underperformance of crops and reductions in soil fertility levels. Farmers are advised to adopt certain nutrient management practices that have been proven to ensure that nutrients are targeted appropriately which has been associated with improvements in nutrient use efficiency, production and a reduction in the risk of nutrient losses to the environment. One such practice is called nutrient management planning. This is a process which involves the collection of site-specific information (e.g. stocking rate, soil fertility levels of crop type) which is then used to devise a nutrient management plan. A nutrient management plan is a document that is developed by farmers typically in conjunction with an agricultural advisor. This plan makes recommendations of how best to target nutrients in line with crop demand. However, despite widespread pressure and considerable promotion of the advantages of nutrient management planning, uptake of nutrient management planning by farmers remains limited globally. Policy makers are keen to understand what motivates farmers to implement nutrient management planning. The overall aim of the research presented in this thesis is to examine and explain the factors which influence farmers’ intentions towards the implementation of nutrient management planning. The two practices under consideration are farmers’ intentions to apply fertiliser on the basis of soil test results (practice one) and to follow a nutrient management plan (NMP) (practice two). A review of the literature demonstrates that there remains a dearth of studies specifically focusing on the uptake of nutrient management planning. Furthermore, among the existing studies, the focus is typically on explaining uptake as a function of farm (e.g. system and farm size) and farmer characteristics (e.g. age and education). A limited number of studies specifically in relation to nutrient management planning focus on the socio-psychological beliefs, including social pressure and perceptions of capability, of farmers. Those studies that do focus on these issues typically remain qualitative in nature and therefore generalising the results remains an issue. To accomplish the aim of this research the well-established socio-psychological Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) is used as a basis for understanding farmers’ intentions towards implementing nutrient management planning. A number of additional variables are also chosen based on a review of the literature such as farm system, farm size, farmer age and education as well as use and trust in information sources. The data came from a sample (n=1009) of Irish farmers for the year 2016. A quota controlled system was set in place to ensure that the sample was representative in terms of predominant farm systems and sizes in Ireland. Ireland presents an interesting case study for analysis due to ambitious targets to increase food production, whilst also maintaining and improving water quality, whilst reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. The issues in this Irish case are reflected more widely and therefore results from this study can be generalised. A cross-sectional survey was designed to collect information from farmers regarding their beliefs and intentions towards the implementation of the aforementioned practices and information regarding the additional variables. To analyse the data elicited by the survey a range of econometric techniques are applied. The primary techniques employed include binary logistic regression, principal component analysis, latent class analysis and structural equation modelling. In total three separate analyses are conducted which are presented as three empirical papers. The first analyses farmers’ intentions to apply fertiliser on the basis of soil test results whereas the second and third both focus on farmers intentions to follow a nutrient management plan. Overall, the results from the analyses show that subjective norm (social pressure) and perceived behavioural control (farmers’ perception of ease/difficulty of implementation) to implement these practices are among the most important factors determining their intention to use them. Agricultural extension is also another key factor influencing farmers’ intentions. However, the results from the latent class analysis also show that the variables which influence farmers’ intentions vary between groups in terms of significance, but also magnitude of influence (marginal effect). Finally, results from the structural equation model also highlight that farmers’ place their trust in different sources of information and as trust increases farmers’ perceptions of nutrient management planning are influenced. These results provide policy makers with useful information for increasing the use of nutrient management planning among farmers. The results of this thesis suggest five main strategies to increase farmers’ intentions to adopt nutrient management planning. First, increase social pressure on farmers to use this practice. Second, increase farmers’ level of perceived behavioural control (ability) over implementing nutrient management planning. Thirdly, increase contact between agricultural extension and farmers, in particular combing both one-to-one contact and group based learning environments may be beneficial. Fourthly, information about nutrient management planning should be targeted through the sources of information farmers are more likely to trust. Finally, policy makers must target different groups of farmers with campaigns designed to increase implementation of nutrient management planning because the results show that farmers are likely to respond differently. Future research should be directed at examining the best methods for increasing social pressure and perceptions of control and to encourage and enable farmers to implement nutrient management planning and how these campaigns should be tailored to specific groups of farmers.