August 1995 // Volume 33 // Number 4 // Research in Brief // 4RIB2

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Factors Influencing the Adoption of a Nitrogen Testing Program

This article describes the adoption and diffusion of a nitrogen testing innovation as a result of an Extension education program. Focus groups and a mail survey provided feedback and information about factors and information sources that described the adoption process. Farmers indicated that Extension agents' attitudes and economic factors impacted their adoption decisions. Results also indicated farmers lacked knowledge and skills to make an informed adoption decision. Future educational programs should include information relating to the economic and technical aspects of an innovation to enhance a farmer's adoption decision.

Robert N. King
Agricultural Team Leader
Cornell Cooperative Extension
Monroe County
Rochester, New York
Internet address:

Timothy J. Rollins
Associate Professor
Department of Agricultural and Extension Education
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, Pennsylvania

A critical component in adopting an agricultural innovation is the educational process that Extension practitioners use to equip individuals with the knowledge and skills necessary to use an innovation. Information sources used in the educational process have a significant impact on the adoption of agricultural innovations (Sulaiman, Baggett & Yoder, 1993).

Supply and demand considerations, explained by expected profits from an innovation, also play an integral role in determining diffusion and adoption rates of innovations (Mansfield, 1979; Rosenberg, 1972). Rogers' (1983) conceptual model describes and assesses the diffusion and adoption of an innovation using five variables: (a) relative advantage; (b) compatibility; (c) complexity; (d) trialability; and (e) observability. The relative advantage and observability of an innovation describe the immediate and long term economic benefits (i.e., profits) from using it. Whereas compatibility, complexity, and trialability indicate the ease with which a potential adopter can learn about and use an innovation.

This study described and assessed the adoption of the pre-sidedress nitrogen test (PSNT) as a result of an Extension educational program. The PSNT is a soil test used throughout Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, and Pennsylvania to determine the amount of nitrogen required to grow a corn crop. University specialists introduced the PSNT through Extension workshops, local meetings, and Extension agents.


The objectives of this study were to profile farmers' adoption of PSNT and to describe and assess factors and communication networks associated with the PSNT's use. Data were collected from both adopters and non-adopters of the PSNT through focus groups (participants were self-selected) and a mail survey (participants were randomly selected). The focus groups were used to identify factors associated with the use of PSNT. Three focus groups were conducted with a total of 26 farmers. The mail survey measured these factors by using multiple choice questions and Likert-type scales. For the mail survey, a random sample of 220 farmers was drawn from 515 adopters and non-adopters of the PSNT from 37 central and south central Pennsylvania counties. A total of 127 farmers responded to the mail survey, for a response rate of 58%.


Both focus group and survey participants were white male farmers with five to 60 years farm experience, at least a high school education, and used manure on their corn crops. Most (65%) of the farmers did not have off-farm jobs and 85% of the farmers made their own management decisions.

The PSNT did not always provide immediate and observable economic benefits and was not always compatible with other production practices. Fifty-one percent of the farmers in the mail survey did not believe the PSNT results enabled them to grow a better corn crop. However, 80% of the farmers reported increased profits by saving on fertilizer usage. Yet, 63% of the farmers were skeptical that the PSNT would increase the quality and/or quantity of a corn crop. Two economic factors (p<.05) differentiated adopters from nonadopters: (a) the test was not expensive to use, and (b) it saved money. These findings are supported by other studies which indicated that economic factors can describe and assess the level of adoption for an innovation (Mansfield, 1979).

The majority of farmers in both the focus groups and survey relied heavily on Extension agents for awareness and education about the PSNT. Farmers indicated a primary reason other farmers didn't use the PSNT was because they were unaware of it. Fertilizer dealers were rated the number one source for "knowledgeable" and "locally relevant" information. The Extension agent was the second most frequently reported source. Both adopters and nonadopters of the PSNT reported Extension agents, crop management technicians, and private consultants had mixed and/or negative attitudes toward the PSNT. Based on the mail survey, the agents, technicians, and consultants attitudes toward the PSNT were statistically significant (p<.05) in describing its adoption.

Focus group interviews revealed that no unique decision making process could be identified for solving the adoption decision. Economic and farm management information required to facilitate the adoption decision was absent in the subject matter of the original educational program. The survey indicated that farmers lacked knowledge and skills, such as soil sampling, to adopt the PSNT. Poor soil sampling skills resulted in unreliable PSNT results.


Extension agents' attitudes adversely impacted the adoption of this innovation, suggesting that the attitudes of Extension agents must be considered when implementing an educational program. Extension agents need to be motivated and enthusiastic to promote the adoption of an innovation.

To facilitate adoption, Extension educators should include information about the economic factors associated with an innovation's use. Profits are a major reason to adopt an innovation. Farmers assess an innovation based on economic facts and concepts, such as risk, past and present practices, production alternatives, and competing production practices. Extension educators must address economic factors and concepts to enhance a farmer's ability to make an informed decision. Therefore, Extension educators should consider a more holistic and multidisciplinary approach when introducing and promoting an innovation.


Mansfield, E. (1979). Microeconomics: Theory and applications (3rd ed.). New York: Norton.

Rogers, E. M. (1983). Diffusion of innovations. New York: Free Press.

Rosenberg, N. (1972). Factors affecting the diffusion of technology. Explorations in Economic History, 13(Fall), 3-33.

Sulaiman, F., Baggett, C., & Yoder, E. (1993). An analysis of information sources used in dairy reproductive management. Proceedings of the Twentieth Annual National Agricultural Education Research Meeting, 20, 165-172.