Submitted to: Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/1/2004
Publication Date: 7/30/2004
Citation: Forte-Gardner,O., F.L. Young, D.A. Dillman, and M.S. Carroll. 2004. Increasing the effectiveness of technology transfer for conservation cropping systems through research and field design. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. 19(4):199-209. Interpretive Summary: Field study accomplishments to improve soil, water, and air quality, to reduce pesticide usage, and to increase farm profitability are generally well documented in peer-reviewed professional journals. However, there is almost no existing information on how specific field studies influence grower's decisions to adopt or adapt research technologies. In 1995, a long-term, large-scale multi/interdisciplinary field research project was initiated in the highly erosive, weed-infested, low-rainfall, winter wheat/fallow region of the Pacific Northwest. The objective of the field study was to replace or supplement the traditional winter wheat/fallow rotation with annual no-till spring crops. In 2002, a questionnaire survey was mailed to regional growers who had previously attended the project's field days, to measure, among other things, the projects' impact on growers' adoption of technologies. One hundred and one growers returned the survey for a 62% completion rate. Over 60% of these growers tried one or more technologies in independent trials on their farms with half of these growers permanently adopting technologies in their production practices. These adoptions included no-till/direct seed, continuous spring cereals, and a reduced number and harshness of tillage operations. Predictive models have estimated that these technologies can reduce wind erosion potential between 55 and 95% compared to the century-old practice of dust-mulch winter wheat-fallow. An increase in systems profitability or price support for many of these conservation cropping systems would increase sustainable production on over 60% of the Pacific Northwest winter wheat (wheat/fallow) production area.
Technical Abstract: The Ralston Project, initiated in 1995 near Ralston, WA, was regional scientists' first attempt to develop conservation spring cropping systems for low rainfall areas and to facilitate the transfer of project technology through research and field design. A mail survey was sent to regional producers in May 2002 to determine the social impact of the project and the influence of its design on the diffusion of its technology. The self-administered, questionnaire was returned by 101growers (62% completion rate) who had attended the Ralston Project's biennial field tours. The project's overall impact was measured using grower's opinions on funding, planning, field design, and treatments tested and the degree of interest, use, and adoption of its technology. Seventy-seven percent of growers found one or more project technologies particularly useful to their own production operation(s). In addition, more than 60% of growers conducted independent trials using one or more technologies/treatments from the project, resulting in 32 new adoptions. Nearly 50% of the respondents passed information they learned from their site visits on to other growers. Project design more positively impacted grower's opinion of the project than funding sources. Elements that received more than a 75% 'Improved Opinion' rating included: a) 'whole system' treatment design; b) use of large plots to accommodate field size equipment, and c) investigators' collaboration among disciplines and with local growers. Funding through local universities improved over 50% of respondents' opinion. In contrast 7% felt that federal funding from environmental programs decreased their opinion of the overall project. Individuals that chose not to use particular technologies largely attributed their decision to regional drought and poor economics for spring crops. A substantial number of growers supported continuing the project citing its value to developing long-term production trends for no-till and spring cropping systems. Results showed that the research and field design of the Ralston Project positively impacted surveyed growers and confirmed the influential role that research design plays in promoting the adoption of agricultural technology.