Page Banner

United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Growers' Perceptions and Acceptance of Soil Quality Indices

Authors
item Andrews, Susan
item Flora, Cornelia - IOWA STATE UNIVERSITY
item Mitchell, Jeff - UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA
item KARLEN, DOUGLAS

Submitted to: Geoderma
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: January 17, 2003
Publication Date: June 1, 2003
Citation: ANDREWS,S.S., FLORA,C.B., MITCHELL,J.P., KARLEN,D.L., GROWERS' PERCEPTIONS AND ACCEPTANCE OF SOIL QUALITY INDICES, GEODERMA, 2003. V.114. P. 187-213.

Interpretive Summary: A soil quality index (SQI) may be a helpful tool for sustainable farm management. However, this can't be known until it is tested by farmers. In an effort to consider farmers in SQI development, we examined not only index results but also farmer reactions to these results and their general needs for soil quality information. We calculated soil quality indices for (alternative) organic amendment and conventional practices in the Central Valley, California. The indices combined chemical, biological, and physical data collected on 11 farms over three years. By the end of the 30-month study period, the SQI results for six of 14 alternative amendment treatments were significantly higher, five were not significantly changed, and three were significantly lower, than at the beginning of the project. In a formal meeting, we asked the participating farmers about their assessment of the study fields. Then we asked them to compare these perceptions with the calculated SQ indices by rating the amount of agreement between the two on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being excellent agreement. The result was a strong agreement, an average of eight. Most farmers were curious that the calculated SQI compared favorably with their assessment even though yield was not a factor in the calculation. Finally, we compared our SQIs with yield for each participating field. This resulted in statistically significant correlations between yield and SQI outcomes. With further refinement and site-specificity, SQIs that are acceptable to their farmers and farm advisors could become useful management tools to help maintain or increase the efficiency of farming practices.

Technical Abstract: Soil quality index (SQI) tools may help promote sustainable agricultural practices. However, without input from their target users, the adoption potential for these tools remains unknown. In an effort to consider the end-user in SQI development, we examined not only index outcomes but also end-user reactions to soil quality information. We calculated soil quality indices for side-by-side comparisons of (alternative) organic amendment and conventional practices in the Central Valley, California. The indices integrated chemical, biological, and physical data collected on 11 farms over three years. Although alternative treatments varied among field-pairs and over time within fields, by the end of the 30-month study period the SQI outcomes for six of 14 alternative amendment treatments were significantly higher, five were not significantly changed, and three were significantly lower, compared with baseline sampling. In a focus group format, we asked the participating farmers to compare their perceptions of soil quality with the calculated SQ indices for the study fields by rating the amount of agreement between the two on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being excellent agreement. The results showed a good agreement (average = 8, range 6-10). Most farmers were surprised that yield was not a factor in the SQ index calculation. Later, we compared the SQIs with yield for participating fields, resulting in statistically significant correlations between yield and SQI outcomes. With further refinement, SQIs that are acceptable to their target audience could become useful adaptive management tools to assess sustainable farming practices.

Last Modified: 7/28/2014
Footer Content Back to Top of Page