Understanding Environmental Behaviors: A modification of value-belief-norm theory applied to farmer nutrient management decisions in the Maumee Watershed

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The Ohio State University

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As the shallowest, warmest, and most productive of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie is particularly susceptible to the effects of environmental stressors. As its once pristine shores have given way to urban, residential, and particularly agricultural development, runoff into the lake has wreaked havoc on the lake’s ecosystems. Increases in the application of fertilizers for agriculture, and increasing rainfall as the world’s climate warms and its weather patterns grow more erratic, create conditions for an influx of phosphorus, a key nutrient in fertilizers and the limiting factor for algal growth in the lake. Over the last few decades, with an abundance of phosphorus readily available, Lake Erie has suffered repeated algal blooms with serious consequences for human and non-human life. In 2011 Lake Erie experienced the largest harmful algal bloom in its recorded history, and, if agricultural practices, land use, and environmental conditions continue to trend in their current directions, this may be just the beginning. Central to the problem is the repeated, and often excessive, application of chemical fertilizers by farmers. My research aims to understand why, in the face of an ecological crisis as visible as Lake Erie’s algal blooms, farmers continue to apply these fertilizers without making a strong collective effort to mitigate nutrient loss. Through the examination of psychological factors, I propose that farmers’ sense of identity can be used to predict whether or not they will engage in nutrient management behaviors, as well as their awareness of nutrient management behaviors, sense of risk related to nutrient loss, sense of responsibility to take action to mitigate nutrient loss, and perception of efficacy.


Thesis proposal earned full-tuition scholarship from the school of Environment and Natural Resources


nutrient loss, farmers, Lake Erie, decision making, Nutrient Stewardship