Darrell A. Dromgoole, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
Scott Cummings, Associate Department Head and Program Leader; Professor and Extension Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
A result demonstration is one of the most effective educational tools for transferring research-based technologies and practices to agricultural producers (Dromgoole, Nusser, & Ott, 2018). The use of result demonstrations began with Seaman A. Knapp, a special agent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture who is often referred to as the “Father of Extension” (Hancock, 1992; Rasmussen, 1989; Texas A&M University, n.d.). In 1903, Knapp established the first demonstration project on the Porter farm in Texas (Texas A&M University, n.d.). Later, Dr. Knapp led an effort to establish result demonstration plots on over 7,000 cotton farms in the South to expand adoption of practices to improve boll weevil control (Hancock, 1992). Today, site-based result demonstrations are utilized to prompt desired changes in how food and fiber is produced (Dickey, Shelton, & Jasa, 1991; Glen, Moore, Jayaratne, & Bradley, 2014; Harmon & Jones, 1997).
Demonstration sites and field days help translate research to application by allowing innovations to be observed by participants and making it easier for Extension educators to communicate about the innovation (Boleman and Dromgoole 2007; Guerin and Guerin 1994). While demonstration sites and field days have the potential to facilitate the adoption of desired practices by agricultural producers, most published information describes how to plan and conduct demonstration tours (Hawkins and Southard 2001; Maddy et al. 2015). Given that demonstration sites and field days are commonly utilized as a method for engaging agricultural producers, questions remain about how effective they are and why they are effective in influencing adoption of innovations (Singh, McGowan, O’Donnell, Overstreet, Ulrich-Schad, Dunn, Koltz & Prokopy, 2018).
Local field days and demonstration sites have been a staple of agricultural organizations since the “schoolmaster of American agriculture,” Seaman Knapp, led an effort to establish demonstration plots on over 7,000 cotton farms to expand adoption of techniques to control the boll weevil, which had arrived in Texas in 1903 (Rasmussen 1989). Demonstration sites and field days facilitate the introduction of new ideas and innovations into the agricultural community by allowing agricultural producers to see a practice and technologies utilized in local contexts and learn from experts and other experienced agricultural producers. Attendance at field days and demonstration events are thought to be an effective method for increasing the rate of practice adoption (Rasamoelina et al. 2010; Genskow 2012).
The diffusion of innovations theory (Rogers 2003) provides a framework to help conceptualize how demonstration sites may facilitate the adoption of practices by agricultural producers. Rogers (2003) conceptualized the decision-adoption process as a progression from learning about a practice (knowledge), to forming an attitude towards the practice (persuasion), to engaging in behaviors that may lead to adoption or rejection of the practice (decision), to implementing the practice (implementation), and finally, to an evaluation of practice effectiveness (confirmation). Demonstration projects provide information for multiple stages of the decision-adoption process by providing criteria for decision making, advice on implementation, and setting expectations for outcomes (Singh et al, 2018). Rogers (2003) theorizes that there are five characteristics that influence whether a practice is more or less acceptable: observability, relative advantage, complexity, compatibility, and trialability. While the relative importance of each of these characteristics has been shown to differ depending upon the practice in question, they have all been found to be important in making farm management decisions (Singh et al, 2018). Result demonstrations can help influence the first four of these characteristics by allowing attendees to observe the practice in use, get information about how it is advantageous compared to current practices, and develop insights into the compatibility and complexity of the practice (Singh et al, 2018). While diffusion of innovations in the context of conservation demonstrations is well studied through case study and descriptive research, there is little empirical evidence to explain the influence such events have on those individuals’ decisions to adopt the conservation practices (Singh et al, 2018).
Showing the direct effect of demonstration projects on adoption of conservation practices is challenging because of the number of factors that can influence practice adoption (Singh et al, 2018). While there are already many known factors that influence the adoption of conservation practices (Prokopy et al., 2008), there remains a disparity in the understanding of the role and effect of demonstration sites and field days (Singh et al, 2018). Recognizing there are many factors influencing adoption and the lack of empirical evidence showing the effect conservation demonstration sites and field days have on adoption of conservation practices, a team of researchers from Indiana conducted a research study to better understand the relationship between attendance at demonstration events and practice adoption (Singh et al, 2018). The researchers hypothesize that there is a significant, positive effect in the attendance at demonstration sites and field days on the adoption of conservation practices (Singh et al, 2018).
These researchers also attempted to understand how demonstration sites and field days influence the process of making a decision to adopt conservation practices (Singh et al, 2018). The researchers attempted to understand at what stage or stages of the decision-adoption process information from demonstration sites and field days influence agricultural producers’ decisions to adopt a conservation practice (Singh et al, 2018). In order to accomplish this, the researchers conducted in-depth interviews with agricultural producers to understand how cover crop demonstration sites and field days influence the decision-adoption process (Singh et al, 2018). Results from the interviews were not used as an inference to understand the adoption of other conservation practices but to understand the process of making a decision to adopt and how demonstration sites and field days may influence that process (Singh et al, 2018).
The research team used a mixed method approach including surveys and semi-structured interviews with agricultural producers in three areas of Indiana (Singh et al, 2018). These areas have all hosted a number of demonstration events over recent years (Singh et al, 2018). In addition, the areas are sufficiently far enough away from one another that a large and diverse population of attendees could be targeted (Singh et al, 2018). A modified five-wave (Dillman et al. ,2014) tailored design method was used for the survey (advance letter with the option to take online, a paper survey with a stamped return envelope, reminder postcard, second paper survey and envelope, and third paper survey and envelope). The researchers obtained contact information through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from the Farm Service Agency (FSA) for all landowners who received federal government payments in 2013 (Singh et al, 2018). The researchers selected a random sample of landowners from the FSA list to receive an invitation to participate and a questionnaire (Singh et al, 2018). To ensure agricultural producers who had attended a field day or demonstration site were represented in the sample, the researchers also solicited contact information of agricultural producers who attended recent Extension activities from county Extension Offices and included those contacts in the mailing (Singh et al, 2018). A total of 2,417 landowners received a questionnaire (Singh et al, 2018). The questionnaire was sent to landowners between July and October of 2015 (Singh et al, 2018). As well as sampling in Delaware, Jasper, and Ripley counties, Extension and Soil and Water Conservation District officers highlighted parts of their adjacent counties in Indiana to sample, based on their knowledge of how past events had been advertised and attended(Singh et al, 2018). Respondents were screened to determine whether they were agricultural producers— those who made agricultural decisions on the property for which they receive payments (Singh et al, 2018). Non-farming landowners were excluded from the analysis (Singh et al, 2018). All contacts were assigned a unique four-digit code, which was included on the mailed survey and required in order to take the online version (Singh et al, 2018).
To test the correlation between attendance at demonstration events and adoption of conservation practices the researchers conducted a posthoc evaluation of three questions (Singh et al, 2018). The following are the posthoc questions (Singh et al, 2018):
The researchers created two dichotomous variables for attendance and adoption using information from the three questions (Singh et al, 2018). The researchers created an attendance/no attendance variable: those who selected “never” for question 1 and “not applicable—never attended an event for this practice” for question 3 was given a 0—did not attend (Singh et al, 2018). All other answer choices for questions 1 and 3 were coded as 1—did attend (Singh et al, 2018). To create an adoption variable, the researchers applied a 0—did not adopt to those who selected “never heard of it,” or “familiar with it but never used it” for question 2 and “I heard of this practice for the first time” for question 3 (Singh et al, 2018). Respondents who selected “I started using the practice,” “I increased my use of the practice,” “I changed the way I implemented the practice,” or “I have not yet made any changes but I plan to in the future” were coded as 1—adopted (Singh et al, 2018). The researchers have included plans to adopt practices as a behavioral intention, understanding the multitude of factors influencing practice adoption including time and resources (Singh et al, 2018). Behavioral intentions are positively associated with behavior change (Webb and Sheeran 2006). To analyze the effect attendance had on adoption of cover crops, nutrient management, filter strips, and two-stage ditches the researcher conducted a chi-square test of association and reported a Cramer’s V to show the strength of that association (Singh et al, 2018). Cramer’s V is a test of goodness of fit in 2 × 2 contingency tables for nominal data (Singh et al, 2018). Effect sizes of Cramer’s V are similar to correlation coefficients and dependent on degrees of freedom (Singh et al, 2018). Guidelines for effect sizes of data with 1 degree of freedom are as follows: 0.1 are small effects, 0.3 are medium effects, and 0.5 are large effects (Cohen 1988).
Semi-structured interviews were conducted with agricultural producers in January and February of 2016 (Singh et al, 2018) . Agricultural producers were identified using the contact list provided through the FSA Freedom of Information Act request and county extension offices (Singh et al, 2018). Due to recent education and outreach activities regarding cover crops by Purdue Extension, soil, and water conservation districts in each of the three study areas, the scope of interview questions focused on cover crops (Singh et al, 2018). The researchers conducted interviews until they reached thematic (related to or producing a theme) saturation, which was indicated by successive repetition among the interviewees and the absence of any new emerging themes or insights (Singh et al, 2018). A total of 24 one-hour, in-depth interviews with 28 agricultural producers were conducted across the three counties (Singh et al, 2018). Thematic analysis was conducted using NVivo 11, which is a Windows™ based text analysis program utilized in qualitative research (Singh et al, 2018). The researchers developed a codebook to identify portions of interviews where agricultural producers discussed their motivations for attending field days and demonstration events, how demonstration events aided decision making on adoption of conservation practices, and subsequent adoption of conservation practices (Singh et al, 2018). An intercoder reliability test involving two coders was conducted on one-third of the interview transcripts to ensure the coding process was rigorous and replicable (Singh et al, 2018). Following refinement of the codebook, sufficient agreement was demonstrated through the achievement of a Cohen’s Kappa value greater than 0.70—a threshold advocated by others including Bakeman and Gottman (1987) and Gardner (1995). Quoted statements included in the analysis are attributed to one of the 28 interviewees (Singh et al, 2018).
The research team removed contacts who were deceased, opted not to participate, and had invalid addresses, a total of 800 landowners in Delaware County, 596 in Jasper County, and 829 in Ripley County (n = 2,225) and adjacent counties received a questionnaire (Singh et al, 2018). Researchers received survey responses from 745 landowners for an adjusted response rate of 33.5%. Responses from the 513 agricultural producers who were actively farming were used in the analysis (Singh et al, 2018).
Overall, 28% of respondents had never attended a demonstration site or field day. Of those who reported having attended an event, 30% stated this had been in the last 12 months, 25% within the last one to five years and 15% had not attended in more than five years. Of those who responded to the survey, 40.6% had attended an event on cover crops, 30.5% on nutrient management, 28% on filter strips, and only 16% of respondents attended a demonstration or field day on two-stage ditches (Singh et al, 2018).
To assess whether attendance at demonstration sites and field days had an influence on adoption, the researchers examined survey responses of those who either did or did not attend demonstrations of cover crops, nutrient management, filter strips, and two-stage ditches (Singh et al, 2018). The researchers reported (Singh et al, 2018) that for respondents who attended a demonstration of cover crops, nutrient management, or filter strips (n = 359), 77% to 84% reported planning to implement, implementing as a result of attendance, or had implemented in the past, while 36% to 42% of those who did not attend any demonstrations for those practices adopted them nevertheless (figure 1). Of the respondents who attended demonstration sites and field days for two-stage ditches, 30% adopted or planned to adopt the practice while 6% of respondents who did not attend a demonstration event adopted or planned to adopt the practice (Singh et al, 2018). Using the dichotomous variables created, researchers conducted a chi-squared test of association. There was a significant, medium to large effect of attendance on the adoption of cover crops and a significant but weak effect of attendance on the adoption of two-stage ditches (Singh et al, 2018).
Figure 1 below provides an illustration of adoption of conservation practices based on attendance at demonstration sites and field day (Singh et al, 2018):
The researchers hypothesized that the fact that the association between attendance and adoption for two-stage ditches is lower than other practices may be due to the novelty of the practice in Indiana, the low number of sites and field days demonstrating this practice, the difficulty of implementing the practice (i.e., the triability is low), or the time between attendance and the survey being insufficient to adopt this practice (Singh et al, 2018).
According to the investigative framework provided by the theory of diffusion of innovation, the adoption of conservation practices by the agricultural producers begins with a level of knowledge about the practice, which helps a producer form an attitude toward the practice, and then structures how the producer obtains and evaluates new information to inform their adoption decisions (Singh et al, 2018).
These results suggest that agricultural producers who attended a demonstration site or field days are more likely to adopt conservation practices than those who did not attend (Singh et al, 2018). Results indicate that there is a significant, positive relationship between attendance of demonstration sites and field days and adoption, or planned adoption, of conservation practices (Singh et al, 2018).
In Future Next Step to Success more insights gleaned from this research will be reported.
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