Sugarcane Producers and Best Management Practices: Attitudes and Influences

Linda Benedict  |  6/1/2005 1:05:14 AM

Table 1. Selected Best Management Practices for Sugarcane.

Steven A. Henning and Hugo Cardona

Louisiana is following a voluntary approach to managing potential nonpoint-source pollution from agriculture. This strategy focuses on education as the means to increase the adoption of best management practices (BMPs), which are those agricultural practices designed to preserve, conserve and even improve the natural environment.

To measure the extent of adoption of BMPs and factors that influence their adoption, we conducted a survey of Louisiana sugarcane producers in 1998. Our results are based on responses from 223 producers, which is about 25 percent of the sugarcane producers in the state.

Rates of Adoption

Three different types of management measures identified by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines were included in the analysis: 1) soil erosion and sediment control, 2) nutrient management and 3) pesticide management. Within each measure, producers were asked about specific BMP alternatives. The management measures and specific practices included in the study are shown in Table 1. The practices range from those considered economically feasible (and a typical cultural practice) to practices considered economically infeasible without cost sharing. The list of practices was limited to a maximum of four per management measure because of statistical modeling constraints.

Adoption rates for specified practices were as follows:

Land leveling (S1) as a management practice was used by 75 percent of the respondents.

Seventy-two percent maintained crop residue (S3).

Only 28 percent of the respondents used cover crops during fallow (S2).

Eighty-eight percent of the respondents used soil testing (N1) to determine fertilizer applications.

Only 13 percent used alternative sources of nutrients (N3).

Among the pesticide management practices, equipment calibration (P3) was done by 90 percent of the respondents.

Eighty-five percent based chemical applications on field scouting (P1).

Currently, the EPA considers a producer compliant if he or she adopted at least one BMP. The survey results indicate that Louisiana sugarcane producers would likely be in compliance under this criterion, with more than 90 percent of respondents adopting at least one of the BMPs in each management measure.

As environmental policy evolves, however, it is likely that higher compliance requirements will be imposed in the future. A requirement of adopting at least two BMPs per management measure reduces the percentage in compliance slightly for sediment control and pesticide management, and a significant drop to 69 percent for the nutrient management measure.

Increasing the compliance requirement to three BMPs per management measure reduces compliance to about half the producers in the sediment control and pesticide management measures. Only 12 percent of producers adopted all three nutrient management measures in the study.

Institutional Variables

Institutional factors that may affect the decision to adopt or not adopt BMPs were evaluated through several different variables. Awareness of legislation related to improving water quality was assessed through two questions. One asked if the respondent was aware of the Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program as specified in the Coastal Zone Management Act, to which only 44 percent responded positively, leaving a significant 56 percent unaware of the existence of such legislation. The second question aimed to determine awareness of the Clean Water Act; 65 percent responded positively.

Respondents were asked if they had ever heard the term Best Management Practices; 65 percent indicated yes. Of those who had heard about Best Management Practices, 78 percent indicated they believed that using Best Management Practices for sugarcane would improve the quality of water when compared to conventional production practices.

Survey results indicated that respondents met with Extension Service personnel or attended educational programs sponsored by Extension Service an average of 3.38 times during 1998. Respondents also indicated that they attended an average of 2.57 grower meetings in the same period.

Participation in cost-sharing programs was an important institutional factor, with 63 percent of the respondents indicating they had participated in cost-sharing programs for at least one of the practices that had offered that option in the study area. The following practices have had cost-sharing programs in the past: land smoothing, precision leveling and/or row arrangement; use of drop pipes or other grade stabilization structures to reduce erosion; use of alternative sources of nutrients (manure, cover crops, sludge or any other organic matter); and use of a containment facility for mixing, loading and storing farm chemicals. Use of this variable involved aggregation to measure overall participation, under the assumption that cost-sharing participation in at least one practice may affect the adoption of other practices.

One variable in the assessment measured environmental attitudes. Respondents were asked whether they believed that agriculture reduces the quality of water coming off farmland. Only 38 percent of the respondents thought agriculture affects water quality.

Respondent Characteristics

The average response for self-perception of risk was 4.17 on a scale of 1 to 10, which indicated a tendency toward risk aversion. Risk attitude, as measured by an investment venture, averaged 1.67, where 1 was the level for maximum risk aversion and 4 was the value of least risk aversion or more risk taking. About 30 percent of the respondents indicated that their firm debt level was more than 40 percent of the total estimated value of farm business.

The average age of respondents was 48 years. About 95 percent of the respondents were males. When asked whether they planned to pass the farm operation on to a member of their family, 68 percent responded yes. The percentage of total gross household income from farming averaged 85 percent.

The tenure status, as measured in terms of the ratio of leased acreage over total farm size, indicated that 78 percent of the land was leased. Finally, 30 percent of the respondents were organized as individual operations, 20 percent were organized in partnership, 42 percent were family corporations and 8 percent were non-family corporations.

Summary of Results

More than 90 percent of the responding producers were implementing at least one best management practice for each of the management measures.

Results indicated that the decision to adopt BMPs was significantly influenced by the number of times producers met with Extension Service personnel and the number of grower meetings attended in the previous year.

Producers who participated in cost sharing were more likely to implement management practices for which cost sharing did not exist.

Risk of yield loss was not a factor in the adoption of the BMPs included in the study.

Statistical analysis of the data indicated a correlation within and between management measures. This supports the contention that education programs designed to increase BMP adoption should consider the benefits within and across management measures to maximize effectiveness.

Policy Recommendations

Based on the outcomes from this study, the following general recommendations are made:

–Offer more intensive educational programs to inform producers of the existence and implications of federal and state laws and regulations affecting production decisions.

–Develop educational programs that focus on explaining how agriculture affects water quality and how BMPs can have a positive impact on water quality.

–Develop educational programs that explain when it is appropriate to adopt specific BMPs. Emphasize the costs and benefits of implementing BMPs.

–Continue to use the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service and grower organizations as primary sources of educational information.

–Investigate opportunities to cost share the adoption of BMPs, where feasible.

–Study the relationship between capital investment in BMPs and rate adoption. Focus on the financial appropriateness of such investment.

–Study the relationship between leased land and implementation of BMPs—for example, the influence landowners can have on BMP adoption on leased land.

Steven A. Henning, Associate Professor, Department of Biological & Agricultural Engineering, LSU AgCenter, Baton Rouge, La.; and Hugo Cardona, Professor, University of San Carlos, Guatemala

(This article appeared in the fall 2001 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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