Why do farmers adopt conservation tillage? An experimental investigation of framing effects

A. C. Andrews, R. A. Clawson, B. M. Gramig, L. Raymond

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this paper, framing effects are investigated in a new context: farmer decision making about conservation tillage practices. Primary hypotheses include the following: (1) frames (i.e., different arguments about or conceptions of an issue) portraying conservation tillage as "profitable" will generate more interest in the tillage technique among farmers than a control frame presenting only basic information; (2) frames discussing potential payments for "environmental benefits" will generate more positive attitudes than frames discussing payment for "storing carbon (C)" to limit climate change; and (3) framing effects will vary based on subjects' prior beliefs and experiences. These hypotheses were tested using a survey-based experiment administered to a national sample of row-crop farmers. Contrary to expectations, the profit frame and both payment frames had no effect on farmers' interest in conservation tillage across our entire sample. Consistent with the third hypothesis, however, a negative framing effect was found for the profit frame on nonadopters who reported no use of no-till in the past two years. These results support the argument regarding the importance of prior beliefs in reactions to frames. They also suggest the possibility of modest financial payments "crowding out" intrinsic motivations for contributions to public goods such as soil conservation. From a policy perspective, these findings also suggest the relative inefficacy of offers of modest conservation payments or profitability frames in promoting no-till farming, especially among nonadopters, and the need to find alternative frames that avoid reinforcing an argument that nonadopters appear to have already considered and rejected.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)501-511
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Soil and Water Conservation
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Climate change
  • Conservation tillage
  • Contrast effect
  • Framing
  • No-till
  • Survey-based experiment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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