December 1995 // Volume 33 // Number 6 // Research in Brief // 6RIB2

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Tennessee Farm Operators' Attitudes About Extension Service Soil Conservation Information

Contacts by Extension personnel play an important role in communicating soil conservation information to farm operators. This study reports the results of a survey of farm operators from three Tennessee watersheds about their attitudes toward Tennessee Agricultural Extension information sources. The results indicate that contacts by Extension personnel and the existence of a mortgage increase the likelihood that farm operators consider Extension information useful. However, farm operators earning less than 25% of their income from farm receipts are less likely to consider soil conservation information from the Extension service useful.

Greg Pompelli
Associate Professor
Internet address:

Christopher Morfaw
Research Associate

Burton English

Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology
University of Tennessee
Knoxville, Tennessee

Implementation of water quality legislation often requires farm operators to adopt new soil conservation practices. Despite their apparent information needs, farm operators' attitudes about the usefulness of information from specific information providers, such as the Agricultural Extension Service, may limit the extent to which accurate soil conservation information is utilized. If the information source preferences of farm operators could be identified, then perhaps more cost-effective information dissemination campaigns could be developed.

As with any set of potential information users, farm operators' perceptions about their needs for soil conservation information may affect their attitudes about soil conservation information. Nonetheless, the classification of operators by identifiable characteristics may aid in the development of approaches designed to reduce the cost of providing information. If a farm operator's potential receptiveness can be foreseen with some confidence, then techniques could be developed to address that farmer's predispositions and this, in turn, might lead to increased success in the promotion of soil conservation practices.

Most studies of the information source preferences of farmers in the United States have focussed on marketing and production information sources (Ford & Babb, 1989; Schnitkey, Batte, Jones & Botomogno, 1992; Batte, Jones & Schnitkey, 1989; Jones, Batte & Schnitkey, 1990; Ortmann, Patrick, Musser & Doster, 1993), but not specifically on soil conservation information sources. Although the existing literature provides a valuable starting point for identifying key variables, it cannot be directly applied to the analysis of farmers' attitudes about the usefulness of soil conservation information provided by various sources.


The objective of this study was to examine the factors affecting Tennessee farm operators' attitudes about the usefulness of soil conservation information provided by the Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service (TAES). The Soil Conservation Service (SCS), supply store personnel, and farm magazines were included in this study as alternative sources of information. However, only farm operators' attitudes about TAES soil conservation information are presented.


In 1991 and 1992, data on farm and farm operator characteristics and financial characteristics were collected from 214 farm operators through personal, on-farm interviews in three Tennessee watersheds (geographically identified as east, middle, and west Tennessee). Within each watershed farm operators were randomly selected based on numbers assigned to their farms. Farm operators who refused to participate were replaced by other randomly selected operators. The watersheds chosen for this study were selected because of their high potential for soil erosion and nonpoint source water pollution.

In addition to farm and farm operator characteristic information, respondents were asked to rate the "usefulness" of soil conservation information from the TAES and three alternative sources. A rating scale from 1 to 11 was used, with 1 denoting "most useful," 10 denoting "least useful," and 11 denoting that the source was "not used." In this study an information source was judged "useful," if it received a rating of 1, 2, or 3.

Findings and Interpretation

The average farm operator in this study was 54.5 years old with 29.4 years of experience and a high school education. About 45% of the farm operators earned less than 25% of their income from farm sales, and 60% had gross farm sales of less than $15,000 per year. About 44% of the farm operators were from East Tennessee, 31% were from Middle Tennessee, and 25% were from West Tennessee. Sixty-eight percent of the farm operators had contact with the TAES, 67% had contact with the Soil Conservation Service (SCS), and 25% had a conservation compliance plan.

The usefulness responses indicated that farm operators were generally skeptical about soil conservation information from all four sources. Twenty-seven percent of the respondents considered TAES information useful, 32% considered SCS information useful, while 42.5% considered information from supply store personnel useful. Soil conservation information obtained from farm magazines was only considered useful by 19.5% of the respondents. One reason for the perception differences across sources may be the extent to which farm operators felt each source understood their farm operations.

A logit model was used to estimate the influence of farm and farm operator characteristics on farm operators' perceptions about the usefulness of TAES soil conservation information. The logit model was considered appropriate because the results could be used to assess the influence of characteristics on the likelihood that a farm operator judged TAES soil conservation information as useful.

The logit model results presented in Table 1, show that the coefficients for East, Middle, and West Tennessee, Extension contact (TAES), the existence of a mortgage on the farm (Mort), and farm operators who earn less than 25% of their household income from farming (Part) were statistically significant at an alpha level of 5%. However, only the TAES and mortgage variables positively influenced the likelihood that farm operators considered TAES information useful (a negative coefficient indicates a positive relationship).

Table 1
Logit Model Results
Chi-Square P-value
East 2.30 16.68 0.0001
Middle 3.26 18.75 0.0001
West 2.52 12.05 0.0005
TAES -2.25 15.81 0.0001
SCS 0.61 1.37 0.2414
Mort -1.53 14.88 0.0001
Part 0.83 4.05 0.0442
Note. Log-Likelihood Ratio Test Statistic = 82.81;
Critical Chi-square Value for the Likelihood; Ratio
Test = 14.45 (.95, 6 d.f.)

The coefficient for contact by the SCS was not statistically significant. The lack of statistical significance for the SCS contact variable indicates that contact by SCS personnel did not affect farm operators' perceptions of TAES information.

It is not clear why farm operators with mortgages consider TAES information useful. If lenders pressured farm operators to use TAES soil conservation information, it is doubtful that this would lead to positive farm operator attitudes about TAES information.

The negative influence of the part-time farm operator variable (Part) indicates these farm operators generally do not consider TAES information useful. Given that part-time farm operators generally are their farm's main source of labor, these farm operators may feel too overloaded or pressed for time to obtain TAES soil conservation information.

Finally, it is important to note that during the development of this model, a number of variables were initially used that did not influence the likelihood that farm operators would consider TAES useful and these were not included in the final model. Variables that were not used because they were statistically insignificant included: the percent of farm land rented, years of education, years of experience, operator's age, average gross sales, the presence of livestock operations, and participation in federal commodity programs.

Summary and Implications

A comparison of this study's results reinforces the notion that factors affecting farm operators' information source preferences are not easily discovered. However, the overall reluctance of farm operators to consider TAES information useful corresponds with the findings of Ortmann et al., (1993) which revealed that large cornbelt farmers preferred to consult their on-farm advisors rather than outside information providers.

Perhaps the most important implication of this study is that contact by TAES personnel has a positive effect on the likelihood that a farm operator considers TAES soil conservation information useful. As discussed by King and Rollins (1995), it appears that information usefulness is positively related to the development of working relationships between information providers and those they advise. Unfortunately, this realization comes at a time when funding restrictions limit opportunities to reach farm operators.


Batte, M., Jones, E., & Schnitkey, G. (1989). Farm information usage: An analysis of production and weather information for midwestern cash grain farmers. Journal of Production Agriculture, 3, 76-83.

Ford, S. A., & Babb, E. M. (1989). Farmer sources and uses of information. Agribusiness: An International Journal, 5(4), 5.

Jones, E., Batte, M. & Schnitkey, G. (1990). A socioeconomic analysis of marketing information usage among Ohio fruit producers. Southern Journal of Agricultural Economics, 22(2), 99.

King, R., Rollins, N., & Rollins, T. J. (1995, August). Factors influencing the adoption of a nitrogen testing program [7746 bytes]. Journal of Extension [On-line serial], 33(4). Available E-mail: Message: send joe research 2 august 1995

Ortmann, G. F., Patrick, G. F., Musser, W. N., Doster, D. H. (1993). Use of private consultants and other sources of information by large cornbelt farmers. Agribusiness: An International Journal 9(4), 391-402.

Schnitkey, G., Batte, M., Jones, E., & Botomogno, J. (1992). Information preferences of Ohio commercial farmers: Implications for Extension. American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 74, 486-496.

Author Notes

Research funding support was provided by the Soil Conservation Service through a study entitled "Impacts on Small, Limited Resource Farmers of Surface and Groundwater Quality Legislation." Contract Number 69-4741-0776.