Houser, M. 2022. Does adopting a nitrogen best management practice reduce nitrogen fertilizer rates? Agriculture and Human Values 39:79-94.
Technical best management practices are the dominant approach promoted to mitigate agriculture’s significant contributions to environmental degradation. Yet very few social science studies have examined how farmers actually use these practices. This study focuses on the outcomes of farmers’ technical best management practice adoption related to synthetic nitrogen fertilizer management in the context of Midwestern corn agriculture in the United States. Moving beyond predicting the adoption of nitrogen best management practices, I use structural equation modeling and data from a sample of over 2500 farmers to analyze how the number of growing season applications a farmer uses influences the rate at which synthetic nitrogen is applied at the field-level. I find that each additional application of N during the growing season is associated with an average increase of 2.4 kg/ha in farmers’ average N application rate. This result counters expectation for the outcome of this practice and may suggest that structural pressures are leading farmers to use additional growing season applications to ensure sufficiently high N rates, rather than allowing them to reduce rates. I conclude by discussing the implication of this study for future research and policy.
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