DOI

10.17077/etd.fwwvrry8

Document Type

Dissertation

Date of Degree

Summer 2017

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Mass Communications

First Advisor

Dalrymple, Kajsa E.

First Committee Member

Campo, Shelly

Second Committee Member

Young, Rachel

Third Committee Member

Tully, Melissa

Fourth Committee Member

Carrel, Margaret

Abstract

In Iowa, the state with the largest percent of its land used for agriculture (90 percent) in the nation, compromised water quality is a chief concern among experts. The primary problem is related to the negative environmental impacts caused by nutrient runoff from fields. Although several innovative land-management practices have demonstrated nutrient reduction potential and other soil health related benefits, the practices are not widely utilized on Iowa farm fields. Thus, water quality is at the center of a contentious debate in the state and many farmers are receiving contradictory advice depending on the source of the information.

Media and interpersonal communication channels play a primary role in disseminating environmental risk information to the public and farmers (Katz & Lazarfeld, 1955; Rogers, 2010). However, little is known about the way contradictory risk information may shape farmer’s conceptualizations of the water problems in Iowa. Correspondingly, little is known regarding the individuals who are most influential to farmer’s behaviors related to these water issues. To address the potential communication process problems resulting from the clashing ideologies related to the environment and agriculture, this study seeks to investigate the flow of information and networks of influence within the agricultural community in Eastern Iowa.

Three studies are conducted to address media, interpersonal, and risk communication components at play in this context. Because mass media are a key source of risk information for the public (McCallum, Hammond, & Covello, 1991; Morton & Duck, 2001; Ho et al., 2013) the first study consists of a thematic textual analysis of online news articles about Iowa’s water quality. A total of 305 articles, published by the Des Moines Register (DMR), Iowa Farmer Today (IFT), and the Farm Bureau Spokesman (FBS), are examined. Themes related to key narratives about Iowa’s water quality problems and the way risks and uncertainty are conveyed in the articles is also investigated. A combination of qualitative and quantitative data was collected to document the types of organizations and key spokespeople used as informational sources in the articles. Findings demonstrate that some messages simultaneously place the blame for causing and the responsibility for solving the problem on the farmers; while others suggest that nutrient excesses are not anthropogenic, are natural, expected, weather dependent, and uncontrollable. Based on the media sources themselves, and the organizations and individuals cited in the articles, this distinction reflects a preeminent pro-agriculture versus pro-environment ideological divide in Iowa.

The second study examines farmers’ perspectives on the nutrient issues in Iowa, including their risk perceptions, and preferred sources of information on water quality, both mediated and interpersonal. The study utilizes intercept interviews conducted over a two-month period between July and September 2016 in Middle and Easter Iowa. Analysis of risk perceptions, uncertainty levels, and current mitigation practices revealed a pattern of lower environmental risk perceptions associated with adoption of fewer nutrient reducing practices, and greater uncertainty regarding current nutrient levels.

The third and final study built upon data from the previous study and involved in-depth interviews with the individuals who were identified as influential to farmer’s water related land management practices. Definitions of influencers from the level of the individual (i.e., self-identification as an influential), community (i.e., identification of an influential by other farmers), and media narratives (i.e., identification of an influential in an article or media source), in addition to definitions of influentials from previous literature were compared. Findings revealed that influence is highly related to employment position and opportunity to communicate with multiple, various farmers. Personal motivation for engaging in persuasive communication efforts with farmers was revealed as an important factor which may help strengthen theoretical conceptualizations of influential individuals within social networks.

This project is a study of environmental communication products, processes, and effects and sought to disentangle the relationships between the risk representation and perception, and influence within agricultural network information flow—an area of research currently lacking. Results help extend scholarship in these areas and illuminate the differing conceptualizations of these variables by mainstream media, agricultural industry media, influential individuals, and agricultural producers themselves. This improved understanding paves the way for subsequent research and intervention efforts to communicate more productively with farmers. The effects of such efforts could help redirect negativity and blame away from farmers, and towards a more productive and holistic approach to solving Iowa’s water quality problems.

Keywords

Agricultural Communication, Diffusion of Innovations, Environmental Communication, Flow of Information, Interpersonal Influence, Risk Communication

Pages

xiv, 258 pages

Bibliography

Includes bibliographical references (pages 217-246).

Copyright

Copyright © 2017 Joanna Marie Thrift Krajewski

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