Using diffusion of innovations theory to understand agricultural producer perspectives on cover cropping in the inland Pacific Northwest, USA

Avery Lynn Lavoie, Katherine Dentzman, Chloe Bradley Wardropper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is increased interest in cover crops on farms; those planted during the fallow period or in place of a cash crop to improve soil and water quality. Despite extensive research suggesting that the practice can enhance on-farm resilience, cover crop use is not widespread, especially across the dryland wheat-growing region of the USA inland Pacific Northwest. Cover crops are being promoted across this region as a means to improve agronomic conditions and farmer livelihoods. Yet, there is limited producer-centered social science research to understand the regional and field-level challenges associated with the practice. To address this gap, we draw from the diffusion of innovations theory to examine the perceived relative advantage (the degree to which cover crops are compatible with the current agricultural system), and trialability of cover crops. Trialability encompasses the relative complexity and observability of the practice. Interviews (n = 28) were conducted with producers to better understand perceptions on relative advantage and how cover crop characteristics may contribute to barriers to adoption. Based on the results from interviews, focus groups (n = 48) were conducted to explore potential avenues for improving the integration of cover crops into existing cropping systems. Analysis of interviews with dryland crop and livestock producers suggested that perceptions of low relative advantage, including low compatibility with common regional management systems, perceived lack of profitability and increased cost of inputs act as deterrents to cover crop integration. Low trialability was associated with the complexity of experimentation, a lack of directly observable results and inflexible regional policies. These perceptions were compounded by a lack of region-specific agronomic and economic information on cover crops. Analysis of focus groups with crop and livestock producers and agricultural stakeholders suggested that there are several opportunities to improve potential adoption strategies and improve perceptions of relative advantage and trialability. Understanding the unique management goals of producers within the environmental, social and economic context in which they operate will better inform regional policies, outreach and future adoption strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalRenewable Agriculture and Food Systems
StateAccepted/In press - 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Agricultural producer perspectives
  • cover crops
  • diffusion of innovations
  • relative advantage
  • trialability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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