Agricultural Nutrient Loss in the Maumee River Watershed: What Influences “Accuracy” of Farmers’ Risk Perceptions?

Elizabeth Schwab

The Ohio State University

Co-Authors: M.M. Kalcic and R.S. Wilson

Agricultural nutrient loss has widespread impacts, including the formation of algal blooms, which can threaten recreation, tourism, regional economies, and public health. Previous studies have examined factors contributing to farmer adoption of agricultural nutrient management practices, which can reduce nutrient loss; however, there is a lack of understanding how farmers’ perceptions of risk are associated with nutrient loss. This study seeks to explore the topic of farmers’ risk perceptions associated with nutrient loss, and to assess “accuracy” of perceptions. The study region is the Maumee River watershed, an area that spans parts of Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan and that is a major contributor to the formation of harmful algal blooms in western Lake Erie. Farmer survey data collected in the Maumee River watershed provided information about specific farm field management; those field-scale management decisions were then used as inputs to a Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) model of the watershed. Model outputs provided predictions of the water quality impacts of field-scale farm management, and those water quality outputs were compared to farmer perceptions of risk associated with nutrient loss on their farm. Outputs for each farmer were evaluated to determine the extent to which perceptions were “accurate” through identifying those individuals who, in comparison to the overall population of farmers modeled, over- and under-predicted nutrient loss risk. Then, farmer characteristics that are associated with relative “overprediction” and “underprediction” of nutrient loss risk were identified to obtain a better picture of the factors that may drive farmers’ risk perceptions. Results from this study can lead to a better understanding of the accuracy of farmers’ risk perceptions and can provide guidance for outreach and policy initiatives.

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