Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2012SD211B

Identifying barriers for adopting new drainage technology among agricultural producers

Institute: South Dakota
Year Established: 2012 Start Date: 2012-03-01 End Date: 2014-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $11,806 Total Non-Federal Funds: $23,786

Principal Investigators: Nickolas Benesh, Jeppe Kjaersgaard

Abstract: Subsurface (tile) drainage on agricultural land with poor natural drainage allows more timely field operation access and contributes to improved crop yields. While properly designed and installed subsurface drainage typically reduces sediment and phosphorus losses, many studies show that subsurface drainage enhances the movement of nitrate-nitrogen to surface waters. Nitrogen is an essential plant nutrient, but excess nitrogen leads to eutrophication and hypoxic conditions in aquatic ecosystems, particularly in estuaries. Many scientists suspect that nitrogen from agricultural runoff in the Mississippi River Basin is a leading contributor to the annual hypoxic zone in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Additionally, high concentrations of nitratenitrogen in drinking water supplies pose a health hazard, especially for infants and pregnant women, and are expensive to treat. This creates a critical need among water managers and policy makers for strategies that minimize nitrate losses through subsurface drainage of agricultural land in order to balance profitable agricultural production with clean drinking water needs, environmental sustainability and the security of future ecosystem services. There are several technologies for reducing the amount of nitrate in drainage water available, including good management of nitrogen fertilizer, changes in cropping systems or optimization of the drainage system design. However, these practices are often not enough and it is necessary to have an edge-of-field treatment system to reach the goals for decreasing the amount of nitrogen that is discharged into waterways to acceptable levels. Several studies show that installing edge-of-field treatment systems are effective methods for reducing nitrate concentrations of drainage flow. The most common treatment systems include controlled drainage water management using drainage control structures, denitrifying bioreactors and wetlands. Some of the treatment technologies were developed several decades ago yet they have not been widely adopted by the agricultural producers. Our hypothesis is that the very modest adoption rate for these treatment systems relates to producers 1) not being informed about negative impacts of tile drainage, 2) are not informed about treatment options 3) feel environmental concerns regarding tile drainage are unwarranted or 4) lacks incentive. Our goal is to explore these barriers and identify incentives that are most likely to increase the adoption rate of these drainage water treatment systems and other water management innovations by agricultural producers. We will collect and analyze data from producers attending workshops on drainage system design during the spring semester. Using these results we will create a more specific questionnaire to determine whether producers are motivated by extrinsic (e.g. profit) or intrinsic (e.g. right thing to do) reasons. The questionnaire will be used over the summer to gauge what would motivate non-early adapter producers to use new methods for water management. This proposal will cover the efforts of two undergraduate research assistants who will be directly involved in every level of the project, from project planning, collecting data, to analyzing, to writing up the results, and deciding on the best way to apply the results. The students will gain experience conducting research and working on topics such as water management, special interest populations, public policy and questionnaire construction.