Determinants of farmer behavior: Adoption of and compliance with best management practices for nonpoint source pollution in the Skaneateles Lake Watershed

Eric W. Welch, Frederick J. Marc-Aurele

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Policy makers and public managers have recently implemented a wide range of watershed management programs designed to reduce nonpoint pollution from agriculture. This paper focuses on the progress of one such program. Skaneateles Lake, New York is the drinking water supply of Syracuse City. Granted “filtration avoidance” under the Surface Water Treatment Rules–allowance of unfiltered water supply conditional upon heightened source protection activities–the City, in cooperation with other agencies, established the Skaneateles Lake Watershed Agricultural Program (SLWAP) in 1994 as one element of a broader watershed protection plan. The SLWAP is a 5–10 member interagency pollution prevention program designed to work cooperatively and independently with watershed farmers to develop Whole Farm Plans that incorporate pollution minimizing best management practices. The program is voluntary and not all farmers have agreed to opt in. Using a modified behavioral model, this paper examines adoption and compliance behavior of farmers in the Skaneateles Lake Watershed in New York State. Findings indicate two stages of adoption. Early adopters have lower incomes, indicate that farming is their primary source of income, perceive fairer and more equitable treatment by regulators, believe the Best Management Practices (BMP) will have the desired effect, and are more fearful of regulatory consequences if the Whole Farm Planning effort fails. We call this first stage “regulatory push.” Late adopters are more environmentalist and more influenced by other farmers and the community. We call this second stage “community pull.” In addition, findings regarding compliance indicate that farmers and the management team diverge in their assessments of progress toward implementation of Best Management Practices, indicating some potentially significant communication problems. Concluded recommendations for management of voluntary programs for farmers include: (1) initial implementation efforts should seek out those community leaders are more likely to be cooperative, (2) regulatory threat may be useful during the initial implementation period, and (3) evaluation criteria must be developed cooperatively with and clearly communicated to farmers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)233-245
Number of pages13
JournalLake and Reservoir Management
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Best management practices
  • Farmer environmental behavior
  • Voluntary environmental management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Water Science and Technology


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