This research deals with the problem of soil erosion in Cypress
Creek basin in West Tennessee and farmer participation in public
conservation programs. The study area is marginal to the
Tennessee Valley, a region identified in the 1930's as having a serious
agricultural soil erosion problem. The four voluntary programs are
the Soil Conservation Service, Conservation Reserve, Agricultural
Conservation Payments Program administered by the Agricultural
Stabilization and Conservation Service, and the Cooperative Extension
The purpose of the research was to determine if soil erosion
is currently a serious problem in the study area, determine if
participation in the selected programs is significantly different in the
study area than the surrounding region, determine if participation in
the non-targeted conservation programs is concentrated in any
socio-economic or cultural subgroups of farmers, and determine if
the programs have been successful in fulfilling their own goals and
The entire study area was mapped for land use and field size
at the 1:20,000 scale using aerial photography flown in 1941 and 1971.
The photography was interpreted for the extent of erosion at both time
periods. Correspondence with state agricultural officials and county
officials in the surrounding region provided information necessary
for comparing participation rates.
Fifty-five farmers were selected at random and interviewed
concerning their opinion of the programs, their participation in the
programs, their perception of erosion in the area, and their relationship
to twelve independent participation variables. The results of the
farmer interviews were statistically treated for the purpose of hypothesis
testing by the Crosstabs and Scattergram subprograms of the
Statistical Package for the Social Sciences program at the Oregon
State University Computer Center. A judgement of soil erosion was
accomplished by the author that includes each field identified as being
farmed by the 55 sample farmers.
Interpretation of aerial photography, field observations, and
interviews with agricultural officials and farmers reveals that soil
erosion is currently a serious problem in the study area. Farmer
interviews and correspondence with agricultural officials indicates no significant difference between study area participation rates in the
selected programs and regional participation rates.
Statistical treatment of the interview data reveals that the programs
have a representative cross-section of farmer participation,
although at a low level. None of the twelve selected variables were
significantly related to participation in the four programs. Although
each selected program has provided benefits to farmers who voluntarily
participated, they have not met their objectives of conservation
of soil and water on an area wide scale.
There are two apparent reasons for program failure. First,
the programs are voluntary and as such farmers are free to make
their own choice based on personal preference or any other criteria.
Second, the subsidy offered by the programs seems insufficient to
induce many farmers to participate. Until there is a basic change
in both farmer attitudes and program subsidy levels, it seems likely
that the present situation will continue.