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Home > Protecting Our Lands & Waters > Water Protection > Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program > Pilot Projects > MAWQCP KAP Study

MAWQCP: Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices Study

Principal Investigator: Dr. Karlyn Eckman
Organization: University of Minnesota
College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Science
Project Dates: 2014-2016
Printable version of the Executive Summary (PDF: 358 KB / 4 pages)

Executive Summary-June 20-2016

1. To better inform the implementation process of the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP), the University of Minnesota (UMN) carried out a longitudinal KAP (knowledge, attitudes and practices) study process in three pilot watersheds. The purpose was to 

a) Provide MAWQCP with baseline information about the knowledge, attitudes and practices of farmers in the pilot watersheds; 
b) Assess the capacity of the producers, communities and local organizations and to understand motivational and incentive actions for each; and
c) Enable MAWQCP to better scope communications and outreach efforts.

In addition, the study was intended to help MDA and its partners plan, target and evaluate the MAWQCP. The major focus of this study is individual agricultural producers in three pilot Minnesota watersheds: Middle Sauk, Whiskey Creek and Whitewater. The three watersheds differ in crops and production systems, agronomic practices, topography, rainfall and other environmental parameters. These were taken into account in the survey, and variables were adapted to local conditions.

2. First-round formative KAP studies were completed in 2014, and second-round summative studies in 2016. Methodology included a modified KAP study (knowledge, attitudes, practices) (Eckman et al 2013; Eckman 2013) using the Dillman Total Design Method (Dillman 2008). IRB exemption was obtained for the study from the University of Minnesota Office of the Vice President for Research. 1453 respondents were included in the sample, and the combined pre/post total response rate was 66%. In general, one would expect to see improvements in knowledge, attitude and practices variables over time in the program. Those values showing mixed results or a decline are flagged in the report, as they indicate the need for more information, outreach, or other programmatic strategies.

3. Study findings revealed that ownership and land tenancy patterns are complex, with the number of owner-operators in decline and cash-rent producers increasing. Less than half of agricultural landowners in Whitewater and Whiskey Creek actively farm their own land. Many producers simultaneously farm their own land, rent land from others, and rent out parcels to other producers. There are significant differences between owner-operators and land owners renting their land to others in their knowledge, attitudes and practices. It is likely that the two groups will not respond equally to the same messages. That is, informational messages should be developed that are tailored to each group. Owners renting their land to others do not appear to be familiar with the practices of their renters. There has been little prior research on tenancy in Minnesota, and MDA should consider a study to better understand the needs and priorities of non-owner operators.

4. Knowledge questions

  • There may be confusion by some respondents between the MAWQCP and the Corporate Farm Certificate Renewal process, for those respondents who have registered corporate farms, as suggested in some respondent comments.
  • In general there was improvement in the knowledge variables in all three watersheds. There were mixed results in Middle Sauk and Whiskey Creek on respondents’ ability to identify the biggest water  3 quality changes in their watershed.
  • There were unusually high frequencies of “Don’t know” responses in all three watersheds in both 2014 and 2016 surveys, suggesting considerable uncertainty in knowledge and especially attitudes. There were also very high “Don’t know” responses from landowners who rent their land to others, with landowners apparently unaware of what their tenants are doing. In fact the study sampling frame did not include renters, who may now constitute more than half of all producers in the pilot watersheds.

5. Attitudes questions

  • As expected, attitudes were very mixed in this study. Attitudes are among the most complex variables to measure, since they are influenced by many factors (weather, the economy, etc.). Several constructs did show positive trends in the two-year period (most important factor being concern for water quality and reducing soil erosion; public perception of agriculture’ barriers and constraints, etc.). Other constructs showed mixed (both positive and negative) changes within a single question, and were more difficult to interpret.
  • Perception of responsibility in the Whitewater watershed for water quality ranked very high in both 2014 and 2016, and even increased slightly over time. Producers in all three watersheds had declining values when considering their own impact on local streams and rivers.
  • A significant number of respondents could not identify the biggest surface water quality challenge in their watershed (44% in Middle Sauk and 63% in Whiskey Creek). Whitewater had much higher awareness of water quality challenges than did either Middle Sauk or Whiskey Creek. This suggests a clear opportunity and need for outreach and education on the status of local water bodies, especially for Middle Sauk and Whiskey Creek.
  • Reducing soil erosion was the strongest influence on adoption of water quality practices, along with profitability and need for a cost-share or financial incentive. Soil erosion and water quality were important concerns for producers. Paradoxically, producers in Whiskey Creek apparently have the lowest concern for water quality but have high adoption rates of clean water practices.

6. Practices questions

  • In general, there were positive changes in at least two practices in every watershed. There were also many constructs with mixed (both positive and negative) changes.
  • The only negative trends in practices in the survey were seen in the Whitewater watershed, which related to manure and pesticide practices.

7. Recommendations

  • As noted, it is advised that MDA consider a survey of renters to understand their production decisions with regard to water quality.
  • The relatively high and consistent numbers of “Don’t know” responses in all watersheds suggests considerable uncertainty about water quality, decision-making, and knowledge about the MAWQCP program, especially from landowners who rent their land to others. There is also high and consistent numbers of respondents indicating a need for education and technical assistance. These two outcomes highlight a need for scaling up the MAWQCP’s programmatic capacity for education, training and outreach when communicating with producers. This recommendation is seen as a fundamental step toward improving programmatic outcomes in the future.
  • Given that the program has been rolled out statewide, and may play a larger national role in water quality efforts in the future, it is advisable that MDA review its evaluation strategy for various program elements as the MAWQCP is scaled up. It will be important to show evidence of positive impact as additional resources are invested in the program. A practical, “evaluation-ready” strategy will greatly facilitate this process as the program expands within Minnesota and nationally.


MDA Contact

Marcie Weinandt
Project Consultant

Pesticide & Fertilizer Management Division