Summer 1992 // Volume 30 // Number 2 // Feature Articles // 2FEA4

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Behavioral Aspects of Technology Adoption


Scott M. Barao
Extension Livestock Specialist
Department of Animal Sciences
University of Maryland-College Park

The movement of technology from the lab to the field has historically been a significant challenge for Extension professionals. The rate and extent of adoption by agriculture of research-based technology is, in many cases, a direct function of the educational programs offered by our land grant universities through the Cooperative Extension Service. The dissemination and subsequent field application of knowledge through human capital is the key to future success.1

Today, educators and communicators are faced with an ever- expanding knowledge base of new agricultural production technology being developed both at home and abroad. This vast supply of new knowledge must be assimilated, objectively evaluated, and systematically transferred through educational and training programs to the end-user-the U.S. farmer. It's this transfer and adoption of technology that will provide the foundation for global competitiveness of U.S. agriculture.

Barriers to Technology Transfer

In recent years, several factors have hindered the assimilation of new agricultural technology through Extension. These factors include a perceived fundamental inability to demonstrate a linkage between economics and biology at the production level. Also, limited movement away from a discipline- based or single-factor approach to a broader systems approach for evaluating the potential impact of available technology may have reduced our ability to convincingly delineate the cost/benefit component of that technology. Instruction and demonstration of new technology within the controlled setting of a university research farm may not encourage farmers to adopt the technology for their farms, which have distinct and different resources. Finally, by failing to recognize and address the psychosocial component of technology adoption as part of the educational process, we have proven that generating knowledge isn't always synonymous with diffusing and adopting knowledge.

An On-Farm Demonstration

To improve the rate and extent of technology transfer, a three-year pilot project was done to assess the effectiveness of using a farm owned and operated by a local producer as a means to implement, demonstrate, and transfer available technology. The technology of interest was associated with improving the productivity, management, and use of pasture resources as a low- cost feed source for beef cattle. A cooperator was chosen and an implementation plan was developed. The plan included a systematic program of demonstration of low-input pasture renovation practices, fencing systems, and grazing management along with an ongoing assessment of the level of nutrition available to the animals.

A series of field days was scheduled to coincide with the implementation of each segment of the plan and included producer- led demonstrations of each technology. Extension personnel collected and summarized data available on each component of the system. At the end of the three-year period, seven demonstration days had been conducted involving more than 340 individuals or families involved in livestock production. Six months following the final field day, a 10-question survey was mailed to 212 individuals to assess the impact the on-farm demonstrations had on adopting new technologies. A total of 104 completed surveys were returned and are summarized in Table 1.

The results of this survey indicated that for the specific technologies demonstrated, on-farm demonstration was an effective way to transfer technology to the farm level. For example, 34% said they adopted technologies related to grazing management and 26% adopted technologies related to fencing after attending the programs. These are high rates of adoption when compared, for example, to the current adoption rate of Dairy Herd Improvement programs. Participation in these programs was 45.8% on a total cow basis in 1990, a level that has been stable over the past five years.

Table 1. Survey questions.
1. How many years have you been involved in live stock production? average years 6.1
   Is your operation part- or full-time? % part-time 96
2. How many field days did you attend in the past 3 years (0-7)? average attended 4.7
3. Have you made any changes in the following components of your operation in the past 3 years?
   Pasture composition % yes 17
   Fencing % yes 26
   Grazing management % yes 34
   Feed/forage analysis % yes 3
4. If you made a change, was a cash investment involved in:
   Pasture composition % yes 97
   Fencing % yes 100
   Grazing management % yes 71
    Feed/forage analysis % yes 100
5. If you made a cash investment, how much did you invest?
    $0 - $500 % in category 58
   $501-$1,000 % in category 36
   Over $1,000 % in category 6
6. If you made a change, do you feel that the on- farm demonstration influenced your decision to make a change? % yes 97
7. Were you aware of any of these technologies prior to attending a field day? % yes 54
8. Had you considered implementing any of these technologies prior to attending the field days? % yes 13
9. If you made a cash investment, do you feel you have received a positive return on your investment? % yes 73
10. Do you currently have plans to implement additional changes in your operation in the future? % yes 84

Influence and Change

The cooperating producer played a key role in the transfer and ultimate adoption of pasture management technologies by giving firsthand experiences to the audience. The whole farm system perspective was stressed throughout the field day schedule, including the related aspects of manure management, soil and water conservation, fertilizer use, fly control, hay production, and animal health and performance. This approach gave the field day attendees a chance to see how changing one component of the farm affected other farm components and provided several opportunities to demonstrate whole-farm cost/benefit information.

The component change having the highest adoption rate also had the lowest cash investment. In addition, the majority of responding producers ran the livestock operation as a part-time enterprise, yet appeared extremely willing to make cash investments necessary to put new technologies in place on the farm. A majority (54%) of those responding were aware of the technology, but only 13% had considered implementation before the field days. This finding follows the stages of adoption and supports the need to look beyond agricultural, biological, and economic issues and towards the psychosocial factors that influence change.

The adoption process involves an interrelated series of personal, cultural, social, and situational factors, including the five distinguishable stages of awareness, further information and knowledge, evaluation, trial, and adoption.2 Characteristics of a technology, such as simplicity, visibility of results, usefulness towards meeting an existing need, and low capital investment promote its eventual adoption and should be considered when trying to transfer any technology.

Farmers' comments over the three-year period indicated the field day experience-rather than previous lectures, handbooks, and other publications-was responsible for their assimilation of practical, take-home knowledge. Economics was a great concern to most participants, who commented on the vast array of available technologies and the difficulty of deciding where and in what to invest. The opportunity to witness an investment in a profitable technology by a fellow producer with similar facilities and resources helped in decision making and guided the changes ultimately adopted.

Achieving an acceptable level of new and available technology assimilation and adoption at the farm level is a function of science, economics, and human behavior. The science or biology serves as the foundation for technology development and economics usually serves as a strong motivator for adoption. The psychosocial and human behavioral aspects of technology adoption are less tangible, but clearly influence the potential adoption of any technology to change. Extension educators must be willing to look outside traditional program areas to assimilate all resources necessary to facilitate change.

Current human behavioral research indicates technology and change will most likely be assimilated and implemented when: the benefits of implementation will be quickly realized (usually within 12-18 months), the tools for implementation are readily available and accessible in the local marketplace, the risk of the implementation can be diminished, and when the change or new technology can be comfortably integrated into other basic ongoing aspects of daily life.3


Extension professionals must be aware of the important human behavioral aspects as well as the recognizable stages of technology adoption when planning educational programs and demonstrations to transfer new and available technology from the lab to the farm. Shifting future Extension time and resources toward the establishment of on-farm demonstration projects has several advantages. Most importantly, a successful linkage of biological and economic benefits, resulting from the implementation of available technology, is more likely to be accomplished in the farm system environment. This is a critical component in the level of technology adoption. Finally, the use of producer-owned demonstration farms and producer-led demonstrations creates a more relaxed, informal setting for the dissemination and evaluation of knowledge for progress and the ultimate transfer and application of that knowledge.


1. W. D. Rasmussen, Taking the University to the People: Seventy-Five Years of Cooperative Extension (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1989).

2. G. M. Beal and J. W. Bowen, "The Diffusion Process," in Models for Educational Change, A. L. Bertrand and R. C. Van Brock, eds. (Austin, Texas: Southwest Educational Development Lab, 1986).

3. E. M. Rogers and F. Shoemaker, Communication of Innovations (Glencoe, Illinois: The Free Press, 1971).