Note: Due to extremely unusual rainfall, 2018 ended and 2019 started with a substantial reduction in the amount of drought in Texas. While this was welcome relief to many parts of the State, it exemplified the problem in that the rainfall is not a constant that can be counted on; especially in Central and West Texas, and the Panhandle portion of the State. We cannot become complacent.
A person walks into their kitchen and turns on the tap to get a glass of water and there is nothing. A patron of a restaurant asks the server for a glass of water and is told they do not have it available. A farmer walks to the irrigation control and opens it and nothing comes out, or a rancher goes to turn on the water for their stock and nothing comes out. The above are all scenarios that could occur if Texas runs out of water or the water levels in the surface reservoirs, rivers, lakes, and aquifers all fall to unsustainable levels. While the first two scenarios are an inconvenient, the second two could prove to be disastrous for Texas, because agriculture generates over $100 billion dollars a year and helps drive the Texas economy. (TexasAgStats, 2017) Given the fact that as of April 2018, over 65% of Texas is in an abnormally dry condition due to drought, (Texas Water Development Board, 2018) there is a very real possibility that the state could indeed begin to suffer. It is vital that the State considers ways to conserve water.
The water supply in Texas falls into two categories, groundwater, and surface water. Groundwater is that which is in aquifers, replenished via water filtering through limestone layers of earth. Surface waters are rivers, lakes, and above ground reservoirs. In 2014, municipalities accounted for over 50% of water taken from surface waters and irrigation accounts for another 22% (TWDB, 2017). In 2015, irrigation accounted for over 70% of water taken from ground water sources and municipalities accounted for another 20% from the same sources (TWDB, 2017). Two disparate parts of the Texas economy are responsible for the removal of a significant amount of water. While it would be beneficial to the problem of conserving water if all citizens of Texas could be convinced to participate in conservation programs, that is impractical.
Since agriculture utilizes the majority of water in the State, it makes the most logical sense to focus on studying ways to reduce the amount of water consumed by the agriculture community. The Texas Farm Bureau made both surface and aquifer water levels a significant part of their 2017 state policy statements (Texas Farm Bureau, 2017) but the question remains what is working and what is not working.
There are so many possible variations to finding a solution to this problem that it is virtually impossible to promote water conservation in agriculture from only one perspective. Especially when the facts show that, “Texas leads the nation in number of farms and ranches, with 248,800 farms and ranches covering 130.2 million acres.” (TexasAgStats, 2017) That diversity of ownership and sheer quantity of land and people mean the scope of the issue requires that multiple questions be asked, Questions such as, is there a way for farmers and ranchers to recycle water? Will capturing rainwater be of value? Will farmers and ranchers be resistant to change? Is there a way to use technology to help reduce the amount of water used in their daily operations?
The local agricultural leaders, such as, the County Extension Agents, the County Commissioners, and State Leadership need to be made aware of the significance of the issues and to take a leadership role in convincing farmers and ranchers that water conservation is in their best interest. They also need to take the lead in teaching those in urban communities and major urban centers that conserving water will help the overall economy of the state of Texas. Ag Leaders can also ask the question can modern technology be of use in the effort to convince and assist farmers and ranchers to conserve water. They are the most qualified to provide empirical evidence of the value of water conservation.
No matter what data is returned from a study, in order to convince people to conserve water, persuasion is needed. There is a psychological perspective that people involved in the communication process have built in and subliminal theories of persuasion that motivate them to action. In order to make a significant change in lifestyle, it is necessary for the messenger to understand both the message and the target audience; failure to do so, will result on the message falling on an unresponsive audience.
The first area to look at is to find a way to change the opinions that people hold and then their actual behavior. Psychology professor J. Jaccard in the article “Toward Theories of Persuasion and Belief Change” (1981) tests the theory that individuals change either their beliefs or behaviors when they are more confident in the source of the message rather than in themselves and their own preconceived ideas.
In the 1997 article “Implicit Theories of Persuasion” communications professor D. R. Roskosewoldsen studied various forms of persuasion for their effectiveness and impact on their subjects. The study tested the idea that the individual who is receiving the message is influenced by how that message is presented. If true, this would affect which method an individual would use in order to present a comprehensive, persuasive message on the need for water conservation. When a person considers interpersonal communications it is important to remember that persuasion is a very common goal of that communication. This paper further tests how both senders and receivers of persuasive communications handle their internal understanding of persuasive messages. The primary purpose of persuasion is to gain compliance with the goals of the speaker, and each individual’s expectation going into any situation can affect the success or failure of the effort.
When considering the individual’s expectations, it is necessary to understand how the credibility of the speaker can come into play. In a 2010 article published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, the authors discuss the concept of source credibility in modern theories of persuasion. In their study, they discovered that the listeners had a tendency to base their attitudes on the information they considered relevant. This was especially true when the audience had previous knowledge of the subject. On the other hand, when the targets had little or no knowledge of the subject, they tended to base their attitudes on the credibility of the presenter and on the level of acceptance, those around them displayed. There are those who argue that source credibility is not important; however, when dealing with a subject as important as water conservation in agricultural settings, those who are water users must be confident in the expertise of those presenting the argument. In this scenario, there needs to be a framework of various persuasion theories in order to build persuasive campaigns for changes.
One question that arises is how consumers process persuasive campaigns. In a 1999 article in the Journal of Marketing, Professor Joan Meyers-Levy at the University of Minnesota and Assistant Professor of Marketing Prashant Malaviya of the University of Illinois at Chicago discuss that issue. Their findings conclude that the message must be unique and it strongly depends on the personal relevance the receiver feels to the message. When attempting to persuade the agriculture community, the presenter must show benefits of water conservation that are unique and not some generic idea such as, because it is good for society. There needs to be a direct correlation between the action and the benefit the listener will receive. For example, if a presenter shows a rancher or farmer how reducing the amount of water used for crop or livestock production can result in significant savings and profitability the user will be more likely to adopt the strategy suggested. Failure to show a direct cause and effect will result in a lack of success for the proposal
Regardless of the chosen method of persuasion, the target audience of farmers and ranchers will require special treatment. In addition to providing evidence that conserving water is important farmers and ranchers also need to be persuaded that changing their business methodology is financially viable. In the 2009 article, “Basin Impacts of Irrigation Water Conservation Policy”, water and natural resources policy specialists, Hilary R. Brinegar and, Frank A. Ward, in a study conducted in Southern New Mexico, write “Results indicate that water conservation subsidies for drip irrigation product several effects. These include greater on-farm implementation of water-conserving technology, less water applied to crops, more water consumed by crops, increased farm income, greater crop production, more land irrigated, and increased total water-related economic benefits for the basin.” (414) While the authors tout less water being used, other studies find the opposite.
In a study only a year before in 2008, Frank Ward, in the article “Water conservation in irrigation can increase water use”, wrote, “ Adoption of more efficient irrigation technologies reduces valuable return flows and limits aquifer recharge. Policies aimed at reducing water applications can actually increase water depletions. Achieving real water savings requires designing institutional, technical, and accounting measures that accurately track and economically reward reduced water depletions. Conservation programs that target reduced water diversions or applications provide no guarantee of saving water.” (PNAS) This type of contradictory data, exemplifies why the single discipline of Ag Leadership is not sufficient to tackle this issue by itself.
As of April 18, 2018, approximately 67% of the State is either listed as abnormally dry. The panhandle and south plains areas of the state are in either in a state of severe or extreme drought. (TWDB, 2018) It is vital that studies such as this one begin to take place immediately. Finding ways to reduce the amount of water used in agriculture would benefit the farmers and ranchers economically. It would also benefit the greater community by insuring water is available in the future. In order to solve the problem, it is vital that people start the communication process. Researchers start gathering data on the impact on agricultural water usage by new technology. Bring together focus groups of farmers and ranchers, especially from areas where water is the scarcest and discuss their current techniques and their plans. This is most definitely a very complex problem, and it will require integrating multiple disciplines to find a solution. By combining the disciplines of Communications and Ag Leadership, it is possible to analyze the problem; but in order to find a real solution requires it more disciplines.
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