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Article

Determinants of the Acceptance of Sustainable Production Strategies among Dairy Farmers: Development and Testing of a Modified Technology Acceptance Model

1
Dipartimento di Scienze e Ingegneria della Materia, dell’Ambiente ed Urbanistica (SIMAU), Università Politecnica delle Marche, Via Brecce Bianche, Ancona 60131, Italy
2
Department of Agricultural Economics, Faculty of Bioscience Engineering, Ghent University, B-9000 Gent, Belgium
3
LUKE, Economic Research, Latokartanonkaari 9, FI-00790 Helsinki, Finland
4
Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences, Aberystwyth University, IBERS Gogerddan Campus, Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth SY23 3EE, UK
5
Organic Research Centre, Elm Farm, Hamstead Marshall, Newbury, Berkshire, RG20 0HR, UK
6
Dipartimento di Scienze Agrarie, Alimentari e Ambientali (D3A), Università Politecnica delle Marche, Via Brecce Bianche, Ancona 60131, Italy
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2017, 9(10), 1805; https://doi.org/10.3390/su9101805
Received: 13 August 2017 / Revised: 23 September 2017 / Accepted: 30 September 2017 / Published: 6 October 2017
(This article belongs to the Section Sustainable Agriculture)

Abstract

:
An extended version of the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) was applied by means of Structural Equation Modelling to testing various hypotheses on attitudes and intentions of dairy farmers towards three novel sustainable production strategies, as well as the influence of organic practices and collaborative behaviours, such as information sharing with supply-chain partners. Data on the acceptance of three sustainable production strategies, namely “Agro-forestry”, “Alternative protein source”, and “Prolonged maternal feeding” were collected by a survey of dairy farmers in six European Union (EU) countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Italy, United Kingdom). We found that perceived usefulness is the key determinant of acceptance, while the intention to adopt a sustainable production strategy may derive from the influence of opinions (and behaviours) of relevant others (e.g., leading dairy farmers, family members, advisors) showing the role of interactions among farmers and other stakeholders in the adoption of innovations. Finally, the perceived usefulness of all of the investigated strategies is higher for organic farmers, while collaborative patterns reduce the impact of subjective norm on usefulness and overall acceptance. Our findings should encourage policy makers to consider the important role of supply chain management practices, including collaboration, to enhance the sustainability of dairy farming systems.

1. Introduction

Research into the acceptance of innovations in the last two decades has yielded many competing models. The majority of these models focus on acceptance to consumers rather than farmers. The Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA), proposed by Fishbein and Ajzen [1] and extended by Fishbein [2], informs all of the technology acceptance models. This suggests that only a small number of variables can explain the individual’s intention to perform a behaviour. A person’s attitude towards objects/products and subjective norms determine the person’s behavioural intention and will result in actual behaviour. Three very important basic models dealing with the acceptance of innovations exist in literature, from which all of the others evolved: the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM), developed by Davis in 1989 [3] and applied to evaluating the determinants of potential consumer acceptance towards computer usage and the information technology; the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB), proposed in 1991 by Ajzen [4] and applied to information technology use and extended by Taylor and Todd in 1995 [5]; and finally, Venkatesh and colleagues, extending beyond the well-known TAM, built the Unified Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology (UTAUT) model in 2003 [6]. A full account of the vast theoretical and empirical literature based on the extension of the TAM basic model for the acceptance of innovations is beyond the scope of this paper. We refer the interested reader to the systematic review by Venkatesh et al. [6], as well to Kings and He’s [7] and Li and Shu’s [8] meta-analyses. In recent years, these models have been applied to many innovation research topics, including new food and new food technologies and their acceptance to consumers and other stakeholders.
In this paper, we present and test a new theoretical model for the assessment of the acceptance of three pre-selected sustainable production strategies among dairy farmers. Following the managerial literature, sustainable production strategies may be defined as broad long-term action plans that provide a road map for achieving the farmer’s goals in terms of sustainable farming. The three strategies have been selected after preliminary qualitative research reported elsewhere [9,10] as potential innovative solutions to increase the competitiveness and sustainability of organic and low-input conventional dairy supply chains. The objective of our study was to assess the acceptance of these strategies and its determinants in order to inform relevant extension and other policies. Data were collected in six different European Union (EU) countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Italy, and UK (England and Wales). We used Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) to assess a modified TAM model (the so-called “structural” part of the analysis), after having tested the measurement constructs by Confirmatory Factor Analysis (CFA: the “measurement” part).
This paper is organised in three sections. In the first section, the three selected sustainable production strategies are described, together with the model and hypotheses used for the analysis, the survey instrument, the data collection, and the measurements and constructs used. The second section on results reports the main findings of the farmers’ survey with respect to the three novel production strategies proposed. The third section draws together the results and attempts some preliminary conclusions on the farmers’ acceptance of the sustainable production strategies proposed.

2. Materials and Methods

2.1. Methodology

Preliminary qualitative research using Q methodology [11,12] was aimed at identifying objectives and expectations along the dairy chain in terms of innovation, which resulted in the identification of various viewpoints in terms of acceptable innovations along the supply chain. A further outcome was a list of innovative sustainable production strategies that represented a sort of “wish-list” of potential innovations in management practices and adapted breeds along the whole organic and low-input conventional dairy farming supply chain, and especially among dairy farmers [9,10].
In order to test—in a more quantitative manner—which strategies were the most acceptable among farmers, we had to reduce that list to just three well defined strategies.
Extensive brainstorming and consultations among partners and stakeholders involved in a EU-funded project led to the choice of the following three strategies:
  • Agro-forestry—Integration of cows and trees on the same plot of land
  • Alternative protein source—Use of home- grown protein crops, such as lupins, beans, and peas, as animal feed
  • Prolonged maternal feeding—The calves and lambs can suckle directly from their mothers (or a foster mother) for the first 3–5 months after they are born.
All of the sustainable strategies were presented to the respondents in a common format, in terms of strengths and weaknesses, threats and opportunities by looking at Social, Technological, Environmental, Animal Welfare, Economics, and Policy arguments. The specific statements used in the survey are reported in the Appendix.
Our model is presented in Figure 1.
Five constructs were included in the model and questionnaire (Table 1): attitude towards use (3 items), perceived ease of use (3 items), perceived usefulness (4 items), subjective norm (3 items), and intention to adopt (2 items).
Davis’ Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) was the starting point, since TAM is the most widely applied model focusing on how a technology affects individual perception and, ultimately, adoption of an innovation [6]. As suggested by Davis in further paper [13], attitude towards use was included as an “affective” antecedent to behaviour. Attitude, as an antecedent of intention and behaviour in the PCB model, was also inserted in other models of innovation acceptance, often in substitution (or as synonym) of intention [14]. Further, Taylor and Todd [5] have provided an integration of TAM with some elements of the Theory of Planned Behaviour. Our model is a slightly modified version of the latter model since only stated (intention) and not actual use (behaviour) was observed. For farmers, attitude towards a sustainable production strategy is considered a critical variable in the adoption decision process, especially in the case of organic farming [15,16,17].
All of the scale items were measured using a 7-point Likert scale (from 1 = “strongly disagree” to 7 = “strongly agree”). Sumatupang and Sridharan’s collaboration index on information sharing [16]—as simplified and applied to farmers by Naspetti et al. [17]—was measured on a 3-point scale (from 1 = never to 3 = often). The collaboration index was composed of three items. Each item was measured both upstream (collaboration with suppliers) and downstream (collaboration with customers).
The list of the hypotheses (H) formulated is reported in Table 2.
The original TAM model involved two primary predictors—perceived ease of use (PEOU) and perceived usefulness (PU)—as direct explanatory variables for behavioural intention. In our model—following Rezaei-Moghaddam and Salehi [25]—we preferred to explore the inclusion of attitude towards use as mediating between the perceived ease of use and perceived usefulness latent variables and intention (see H1, H2, and H3).
According to Davis [3], an individual adopts a (new) technology primarily because it is useful, rather than because it is easy to use. Indeed, in prior empirical TAM studies, perceived ease of use is found to exhibit: (a) a direct effect on behavioural intentions or attitudes lower than perceived usefulness; (b) a indirect effect by being one antecedent of perceived usefulness itself. In other words, perceived usefulness partially mediates the effect of perceived ease of use. Users tend to downsize the difficulties in using an innovation if the benefits of its usage are substantial [7] (see H4).
In our case, subjective norm can be defined as a subjective perception of social pressure to accept or not a sustainable production strategy in dairying. The opinion of other relevant people or institutions (fellow farmers, other supply chain members, advisers, family members, media, etc.) may influence the behaviour or, subordinately, its antecedents (see H5).
The decision to adopt a new technology or a novel production strategy is related to the amount of knowledge one has regarding how to use that technology appropriately [26]. Besides, organic farming systems are “information intensive” and the availability of information is particularly relevant for “knowledge-based” innovative production strategies [27]. When information is not available, people tend to rely on other people’s opinions and experience, which are broadly referred to as subjective norms. Indeed, experience enhances knowledge and information [28,29], and information should moderate the effect of subjective norms on the acceptance of an innovation and in its adoption process (see H6).
Furthermore, organic farmers are often more educated and more open to innovations aiming at enhancing the sustainability of the whole farm [27,30]. We postulate that this could have an effect on any of the “cognitive variables” of the original Davis’ model (usefulness and ease of use), see H7 and H8.

2.2. Description of the Questionnaire

A four-section questionnaire was developed. The first section was aimed to elicit basic information about the respondents’ role in dairy farming and eligibility to answer the survey. The second section included the description of the production strategies (1: Agro-forestry, 2: Alternative protein source, and 3: Prolonged maternal feeding) and 15 itemized questions relative to the five constructs included in our model. During the administration of the questionnaire, the three production strategies were proposed in a randomised order; all the items, except the two measuring behavioural intention, were also randomized between all of the constructs. At the end of the question related to each innovation, an open question was added to collect the respondent’s opinions about the production strategy previously shown. At the end of this whole section, respondents were asked to rank (1st-2nd-3rd) the three production strategies according to their preferences. The third section dealt with socio-economic information about the respondents: legal status, number of full time employees, organic certification and first year of organic production, heads of cattle, sheep, and goats. The last section addressed the assessment of the level of direct upstream and downstream collaboration within the farmers’ supply chain. The original questionnaire was written in English and translated in the other languages by relevant partners. Back-translation was used to check that the original sense of each question was not lost in translation. Extensive crosschecking, editing, and pre-testing were conducted before sending out the final questionnaire.

2.3. Data Collection

The survey was administered to a convenience sample of organic and low-input conventional dairy farmers (including those who had on-farm processing) in six EU countries (AT, BE, DK, FI, IT, UK). We used an online questionnaire platform (Qualtrics) to administer the survey, which was emailed to lists of dairy farmers (more than 1000) and to dairy farmers associations that, on their turn, emailed it to their members. In the UK, in addition to emailing the survey to a list of contacts and industry bodies, responses were collected by personal interviews during a dairy farmers’ event using the same platform to input data (CAPI). In all of the countries, various email reminders were sent and computer assisted telephone interviews were conducted in some cases. Respondents were offered the opportunity to receive the survey results as a small benefit for their participation. In total, 190 farmers completed the survey (Table 3). We cannot compute an exact response rate since many associations refused us to give us the emails of their members and in UK some responses were collected during an event.

2.4. Measurement and Construct Validation

All of the measures for the study constructs were drawn from previous literature on acceptance models for innovations, but were adapted to the specific application of the acceptance of sustainable production strategies in the dairy system. The measures, definition, their reference sources, and scale items have been shown in Table 1.
The measurement scales were pre-tested by experts in the dairy sector. Minor modifications were made based on the comments collected throughout the pre-test. For parsimony in the administration of the questionnaire, many constructs were just identified. In any case, a confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) was conducted on multi-item scales (intention to adopt, attitude towards use, perceived ease of use, perceived usefulness, and subjective norm). All 15 items were retained. The final measurement model had close fit (χ2 = 187.31, degrees of freedom [df] = 80, p < 0.001; Root Mean Square Error of Approximation [RMSEA] = 0.049, [C.I. 90%: 0.04–0.058]; Standardized Root Mean Square Residual [SRMSR] = 0.040). Including also the Collaboration Index in the CFA resulted again in good fit (χ2 = 424.10, degrees of freedom [df] = 173, p < 0.001; Root Mean Square Error of Approximation [RMSEA] = 0.05, [C.I. 90%: 0.044–0.057]; Standardized Root Mean Square Residual [SRMSR] = 0.051).
Measurement reliability and validity were evaluated. Cronbach’s alpha provided strong evidence of measurement reliability for all variables, except perceived ease of use, which exhibited a value just below 0.70 (see Table 4 for measurement properties). This latter value is just above the average reported in other studies but well above the minimum value of 0.63 [7].
Convergent validity is supported by the high and significant standardized loadings for the measures [31]. The loadings of the perceived ease of use variable were significant and, though not high, all were above the 0.50 threshold. Multiple-group measurement invariance was tested for the organic vs. conventional grouping and for each novel production strategy. The model exhibited close fit for configural invariance (RMSEA = 0.49 [C.I. 90%: 0.039–0.059]) and construct-level metric (equal factor loadings: RMSEA = 0.50 [C.I. 90%: 0.041–0.059]) across the organic and conventional groups. Testing invariance across the different novel production strategies yielded good fit for configural invariance (RMSEA = 0.57 [C.I. 90%: 0.047–0.067]), while construct-level metric invariance was rejected.

3. Results

3.1. Acceptance of Innovative Sustainable Production Strategies

The analysis of the 190 completed survey shows that the production strategy “Alternative Protein Source” is broadly the most preferred and was ranked first by 144 out of 190 respondents (76%). The other two production strategies were less favoured: “Agroforestry” was ranked first by only 26 out of 190 (14%) and “Prolonged Maternal Feeding” was the least preferred innovation (10%: 20 out of 190 ranked it first). Using rank-weighted scores (=rank × number of respondents choosing that rank), it is clear that “Agroforestry” and “Prolonged Maternal Feeding” score are equal and well above the preferred strategy (the lowest the score the most preferred the strategy is: see Table 5).

3.2. Attitude Towards the Use of Novel Production Strategies

After having read the information card on the specific production strategy, respondents were asked to rank 15 statements for five different constructs in a 7-point Likert Scale. Among these constructs, respondents were asked to rate three statements to assess their attitude towards the use of new production strategies (AA). The average value of the attitude towards use scale was relatively high for the “Alternative Protein Source” strategy (M = 5.22, SD = 1.19) and was in each country above the mid-point of 4, meaning that in each country the farmers have a positive feeling associated with the adoption of the production strategy in the supply chain. The mean values for the other production strategies were lower: “Agroforestry” (M = 3.62, SD = 1.68) and “Prolonged maternal feeding” (M = 3.47, SD = 1.75). Values around a mean of 3 (add st. dev.) indicate that the majority has a negative feeling associated with the adoption of the production strategy in the supply chain (e.g., 3 value in the Likert Scale adopted is equal to “Somewhat Disagree”). A Hotelling’s T-squared test was performed to determine if the average attitude was different among the strategies. We reject the null hypothesis of equal means, F(2,192) = 98.79, p = 0.000, Hotelling T2 = 198.61. However, as expected from the previous results on rankings, we cannot reject the equality of equal mean attitude towards “Agroforestry” and “Prolonged maternal feeding”, F(1,192) = 1.35, p = 0.25.

3.3. Intention to Adopt Novel Production Strategies

Respondents were also asked to rank in a 7-point Likert Scale two questions on their intention to adopt each of the production strategies. The intention to adopt (IA) scale confirms a relatively high mean value for the “Alternative Protein Source” strategy (M = 4.92, SD = 1.54), meaning that in each country the majority would adopt this production strategy. The mean values for “Prolonged Maternal Feeding” (M = 3.14, SD = 1.86) and “Agroforestry” (M = 3.19, SD = 1.69) are significantly lower: F(2,191) = 69.88, p = 0.000, Hotelling T2 = 140.48. However, we cannot reject the equality of equal mean intention to adopt of “Agroforestry” and “Prolonged maternal feeding”, F(1,192) = 0.11, p = 0.739.

3.4. Information Sharing along the Supply Chain

Figure 2 reports the results of the level of information sharing along the supply chain by country and dimension of collaboration. The scale range from 1 = “Never” to 2 = “Sometimes” and 3 = “Often”, indicating how often the respondents declare to collaborate respectively with suppliers and customers on each dimension (Innovation Policy, Certification Issues, Product Quality). The sub-scale Information sharing on Product Quality has the highest value (M = 2.34, SD = 0.55), meaning that this form of collaboration occurs, on average, more than “Sometimes”. The information sharing on Certification Issues (M = 1.95, SD = 0.61) and on Innovation Policy (M = 1.87, SD = 0.57), on average occurs less often. The difference with Product Quality is significant, F(2,188) = 97.77, p = 0.000, Hotelling T2 = 196.57, p = 0.000, but we cannot reject the equality of the average level of collaboration on Innovation Policy and Certification Issues, F(1,189) = 3.14, p = 0.078.

3.5. Structural Equation Modelling (SEM) Analysis

For this analysis a sample of 190 complete responses from farmers could be used for which we had no missing data on the measurement variables. Each farmer rated three strategies, so the number of observations available for the model for dairy farmers was 570. Given that the multi-item latent variables were measured by ordered categorical indicators, inspection of the data suggested an estimation method robust to departure to non-normality. Following Finney and Di Stefano [32], we used a Satorra-Bentler scaling of the variables with Maximum Likelihood estimation. The original model included only the solid arrow paths: subjective norm impacting only on intention to adopt, as in the Taylor and Todd’s [5] model. There was a poor fit between this model and the observed data (χ2 = 668.80, degrees of freedom [df] = 85, p < 0.001; Root Mean Square Error of Approximation [RMSEA] = 0.11, [C.I. 90%: 0.102–0.118]; CFI = 0.84; Standardized Root Mean Square Residual [SRMSR] = 0.31).
Modification indices and residuals suggested that the fit could be improved. In modifying the model, the exploratory, post-hoc model-fitting strategy proposed by Byrne [33] was followed: each parameter/path was separately incorporated into or deleted from the model, and subsequently tested. Only significantly different modifications were retained. The choice of each parameter/path to incorporate or delete was based on theoretical and statistical considerations.
This sequential procedure led to incorporating first a path between subjective norm and perceived usefulness. The fit improved substantially (χ2 = 194.92, degrees of freedom [df] = 42, p < 0.001; Root Mean Square Error of Approximation [RMSEA] = 0.049, [C.I. 90%: 0.040–0.057]; CFI = 0.97; Standardized Root Mean Square Residual [SRMSR] = 0.40). Unfortunately, in this model, the paths from Perceived usefulness and Perceived ease of use and Attitude were non-significant as was the path leading from attitude to Intention to adopt. Since we found a model where Intention is simply caused by Subjective Norm is not very informative, we explored modification indices for further improvements.
This led to adding another path from Subjective Norm to Perceived ease of use. This model did not fit the data significantly better (χ2 = 194.46, degrees of freedom [df] = 83, p < 0.001; Root Mean Square Error of Approximation [RMSEA] = 0.049, [C.I. 90%: 0.040–0.057]; CFI = 0.97; Standardized Root Mean Square Residual [SRMSR] = 0.40). There was no further improvement possible from modification indices, so we explored our structure for theoretical simplifications. Since paths from/to Attitude were still not significant, we decided to drop this variable. Indeed, in most TAM-related literature this variable is often either a proxy of Intention or, when Intention is included, left out. Indeed, from a theoretical point of view, we believed there was some merit to having both into the model, Attitude and Intention being separate constructs in the TPB model.
The new model fit the data slightly worse (χ2 = 120.92, degrees of freedom [df] = 48, p < 0.001; Root Mean Square Error of Approximation [RMSEA] = 0.052, [C.I. 90%: 0.040–0.063]; CFI = 0.97; Standardized Root Mean Square Residual [SRMSR] = 0.41). However, there was a significant path going from Subjective Norm to Perceived Usefulness to Intention to Adopt. Perceived Ease of Use had no outgoing significant paths (neither to perceived usefulness nor to intention), while it was caused by Subjective Norm. The exclusion of this variable led to our next model, which finally exhibited a close fit. For the sake of parsimony, since the path from Subjective Norm to Intention was not significant, it was removed to get our final model, reported in Figure 3.
The final results indicate a close fit between the model and the data (χ2 = 50.64, degrees of freedom [df] = 25, p < 0.001; Root Mean Square Error of Approximation [RMSEA] = 0.042, [C.I. 90%: 0.025–0.059]; CFI = 0.99; Standardized Root Mean Square Residual [SRMSR] = 0.02). The model provides good insights on the adoption of novel production strategies by dairy farmers. Given that we dropped attitude towards use in the final model, Hypotheses 1 to 3 were not supported. Hypothesis 2 was partially supported in the sense that perceived usefulness appears as the only driver of adoption, albeit—as we have seen—the model does not support a mediation role for attitude towards use.
The cognitive aspect prevails, confirming the importance of perceived usefulness as a predictive variable of intention. The findings do not contrast with the original findings of Davis [3] or those of Taylor and Todd [5]. They also found all path coefficients in the model to be significant with the exception of the paths from Ease of Use to Attitude and Attitude to Behavioural Intention. Similar results are reported in Adrian et al. [34], though their model in general had a quite poor fit. This finding indicates that dairy farmers, when they intend to adopt a new production strategy, do so primarily because they consider it to be useful and believe that it will provide substantial benefits. In contrast, ease of use in our model is completely mediated and shadowed by Subjective Norm. Dairy farmers tend to consider useful what other relevant people or institutions (e.g., leading companies, other farmers, advisers, etc.) consider useful too. This finding confirms the role of Subjective Norm in influencing intentions—as hypothesised by the TPB model—but qualifies the role of Perceived Usefulness as mediator of this influence. Hypothesis 5, as specified in Hypothesis 5a, is, therefore, supported.
We conducted a post-hoc analysis in order to (a) test model invariance across organic and conventional farmers; (b) test model invariance across the three different production strategies; and, (c) explore the existence of the interaction between the collaboration patterns of information sharing and the explanatory variables in the model.
Multi-group analyses were conducted to cross-validate the model across different samples. Specifically, we tested for configural and metric invariance across organic and non-organic (conventional) farmers, and across the three different strategies.
The first step was to test the multi-group configural model in which no parameter constraints are specified. The second step consisted of testing for full metric invariance (invariant factor loadings, intercepts and structural regression paths). Configural invariance was found holding for both the organic and conventional samples and for each strategy (p < 0.05). Therefore, we can conclude that the model is not farmers’ group or strategy specific. Full metric invariance could be established for the organic and conventional groups (p < 0.01), but—quite expectedly—not for the three strategies. These results suggest that while organic and conventional farmers form their intention in identical manners (that is their perceived usefulness is influenced by subjective norms to the same extent, and intentions are equally influenced by “Perceived Usefulness”), the way constructs are measured and the strength of the path differs in relation to each production strategy.
Tests of latent means differences, besides, showed that organic farmers, on average, perceive all the three strategies as more useful and to have a higher intention to adopt any of them in comparison with conventional farmers. Therefore, while Hypothesis 7 could not be tested and therefore is not supported, Hypothesis 8 (i.e., Perceived Usefulness of the sustainable production strategies is higher for organic farmers) could not be rejected. Organic farmers, on average, exhibit a higher Subjective Norm in relation to the three strategies, too.
The last analysis was performed on collaboration indexes of information sharing. In particular, we tested whether information sharing was moderating the direct effect of subjective norm on Perceived Usefulness (and, indirectly, on Intention to Adopt). Since we have found that the opinion of “relevant others” is so important in forming the farmers’ opinions on the usefulness of a certain novel production strategy, we wanted to analyse if there were significant interactions with collaboration patterns (in terms of downstream and upstream information sharing) within the supply chain. We interacted the collaboration index/information-sharing variable with Subjective Norm, and we performed the estimation not assuming the normality of the interaction term.
The interaction term was statistically significant and exhibited a negative sign. This finding suggests that Hypothesis 6 is also not rejected: as collaborative efforts on information sharing increase along the supply chain, the impact of Subjective Norm on Perceived Usefulness is decreased. Farmers who share more knowledge and information on innovation certification and product quality feel less subject to the opinions of other people in forming their opinions on the usefulness of an innovation strategy.

4. Discussion and Conclusions

“Alternative protein feeding” is the sustainable production strategy that exhibits the highest level of acceptance among farmers. It is ranked at first place by more than 3/4 of the respondents. The other two strategies are far less accepted and are equally scored.
The modelling results shows that the intention to adopt one of the three innovations is strongly influenced by the understanding of the usefulness of the innovation itself, while this understanding is strongly influenced by the opinion of “relevant others” (fellow farmers, advisers, other supply chain members). The strong importance of usefulness in influencing the choices is also illustrated by the comments that were made by respondents at the end of survey (e.g., “It is useful to reduce the costs of feed” (IT farmer); “Trees and cattle don't mix well” (UK farmer)). The level of information sharing within the supply chain mitigates this influence, while organic farmers—in general—exhibit a higher perception of usefulness and intention of all the three strategies, but they are even more influenced by others than conventional farmers are.
Our results make some theoretical contributions.
First, we have fully tested an extended Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) model in the dairy sector. Ref. [35] applied the model to New Zealand dairy farming but never tested it by Structural Equation Modeling. Indeed, with respect to their application, we found that the influence of Perceived Ease of Use on Intention to Adopt and Perceived Usefulness superseded by the role of Subjective Norm in influencing the latter variable.
Furthermore, we found that differentiating between Attitude towards Use and Intention to Adopt is probably unnecessary in this context: the “cognitive response” variable—Perceived Usefulness—seems to influence behavioural intention without needing an affective mediator. This finding partially contradicts the view of Davis [13], since he included the “attitude towards adoption” as a mediator between his two original constructs (Perceived Usefulness, PU, and Perceived ease of Use, PEOU) and actual adoption behaviour. However, Davis never introduced behavioural intention between attitude and behaviour. The Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) considers attitude as one of the influencers of the behavioural intention, which is the latent, unobservable construct that immediately precede behaviour. However, in the TPB model, subjective norms contribute—side by side with attitudes—to influence intentions. In our empirical findings, in the context of technology decisions in the dairy sector, the role of subjective norm is a very strong antecedent of the salient belief regarding the usefulness of a production strategy.
In summary, our study confirms the validity of the general TAM framework in explaining technology adoption intentions (and decisions), but also demonstrates that, in the context of sustainable novel production strategies aimed at the organic and low-input conventional dairy sector, the individual farmer’s belief is strongly influenced by those of others, specifically leading peers and other significant influencers such as family members and advisors. Further research is needed to validate our findings in other contexts, but we believe that the results of our study have theoretical implications that go beyond the specific case under observation.
Our findings also have relevant practical implications for dairy farmers, compound feed producers and retailers, dairy processors, researchers, and advisers. As stated earlier, we have found that:
(1)
Perceived usefulness is the main determinant of farmer’s intention to adopt an innovative sustainable production strategy, and
(2)
Farmers’ perceptions of what other relevant people want them to do, strongly influences what farmers’ perceive as useful to adopt.
(3)
Collaboration practices, such as information sharing, reduce the impact of Subjective Norm on perceived usefulness.
(4)
Organic farmers perceive any sustainable production strategy as more useful than their low-input conventional counterpart.
The first finding implies that, since usefulness appears to be the only relevant construct directly influencing intentions to adopt sustainable strategies, researcher and advisers do not necessarily need to concentrate in making sustainable practices easier, but demonstrate their practical usefulness with relevant empirical evidence.
The second finding may have to do with the fact that some of the production strategies tested here have not been widely tested and evaluated through research and by farmers. This is true, in particular, for the two strategies that are ranked less favourably (Agroforestry and Prolonged Maternal Feeding). Under such conditions, pioneers are taking the risk for all the followers, and this may turn out very costly in dairy farming, where a large portion of the farm capital is invested in the livestock. The diffusion of innovative practices among dairy farmers—given the risks associated to investments in livestock—is probably best operationalized through “innovation clubs”, where innovation can be tested under conditions of practical farming and pioneer farmers don’t feel alone. The fact that the most preferred strategy was soy substitution by “Alternative proteins” may derive from the large influence of others’ opinions (and behaviours) on each individual farmer. Many farmers stated that they have already adopted this strategy confirming that this has been more widely tested. Individual farmers consider this more useful and are more likely to adopt those novel production strategies that receive broader consensus among their peers, their advisers and the society in general.
Furthermore, the finding that those farmers who are better at sharing information along the supply chain (with both their customers and suppliers) are those whose opinions are less impacted by others may help in understanding the role of increased collaboration. Sharing knowledge and information along the supply chain is important to speed up the adoption of novel technologies and strategies, especially those that appear less “mainstream” in the eyes of the prospect adopters. Sustainable production strategies, especially those applied in organic farming, need strong collaboration throughout the whole supply chain: input producers need to recognise the (novel) needs of their farming customers, while processors, distributors, and finally consumers need to perceive the higher value produced by means of these more sustainable practices. In the past, organic farming, itself seen as innovation, has been an example on how sharing information and knowledge can become viral, even against strong corporate interests in the chemical input industry and against mainstream knowledge-based supply chains that were not favourable (and in many instances still are) to its diffusion (universities, research centres, advisory and extension agencies) [27]. The importance of a collaborative supply chain management is not new to the organic farming sector and was analysed in previous studies [17]. In the organic and low-input conventional dairy supply chain, a lack of home-grown or local feed is among the greatest barriers to real sustainable and safe development. Given an “Alternative Proteins Source” strategy is prone to have implications on farm productivity, profitability, as well as in milk quality, the success of this strategy hinges upon an increased collaboration among the various supply chain actors.
The last finding may depend on the fact that the organic farmers’ social environment is more favourable to novel sustainable strategies than the conventional farmers’ environments are. Organic farming has been described as intrinsically innovative and research-oriented [36,37] and organic farmers may be intrinsically prone to higher risk-taking and innovation.
In conclusion, our findings should encourage policy makers to consider the important role of supply chain management practices, including collaboration, and of organic farming to enhance the sustainability of dairy farming systems. “Agroforestry” and “Prolonged maternal feeding”—albeit unappealing for the majority of farmers—are somewhat more innovative strategies since have been less tested and diffused, so further research and development could bring higher benefits if they are found to allow the achievement of a higher level of sustainability. Indeed, information needs to be freely accessible by all interested parties in order to be shared within a supply chain. Since providing information and knowledge is costly, increased public efforts in the direction of increased free access to information resources as well as increased provision of information, advisory, and extension services are paramount to the adoption of sustainable production strategies in the dairy supply chain. Farmer-led research could be an effective way for researchers and the farmer together to develop sustainability of agriculture [38]. In the future, the role of information sharing practices is likely to become increasingly crucial to achieve higher levels of sustainability—in all domains: environmental, economic, and social—of supply chains, even outside of the agro-food sector. Our results show that organic farmers may be more open to change. However, previous research [17] has shown that they are not much different than their conventional counterparts in showing relative little collaboration along the supply chain.

Acknowledgments

The authors gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the EU Commission for the research project “Sustainable Organic and Low-Input Dairying” (EUFP7 SOLID). The views expressed here are not in any way attributable to the EU Commission but are solely the responsibility of the authors.

Author Contributions

All the authors contributed to the paper. However, R. Zanoli wrote Sections 2.4, 3.1 and 3.2; S. Naspetti wrote Sections 2.1 and 3.5; S. Mandolesi wrote Sections 2.2, 2.3, 3.3 and 3.4. Introduction, Discussion and Conclusions are common.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Appendix A. Information Presented on the Sustainable Production Strategies

A.1. Agroforestry

Agroforestry innovation in dairy production is the integration of animals (cows, sheep) and trees on the same plot of land.
Innovation strengths/opportunities:
  • Enables the production of wood, forage, livestock and fruits or nuts (depending on trees chosen), on the same plot of land, which improves farm revenue.
  • Increases soil and plant biodiversity and carbon sequestration and reduces soil erosion.
  • Trees offer shelter to grazing animals that benefit animal welfare.
Innovation weaknesses/threats:
  • High initial financial investment for the purchase of trees and ongoing management input.
  • The forage value of the leaves for animal nutrition is largely unknown.
  • Trees may be damaged by livestock that eat, step on or rub against them.

A.2. Alternative Protein Source

Use of home- grown protein crops, such as lupins, beans and peas, as animal feed.
Innovation strength/opportunities:
  • Reduces the amount of imported soya from outside the EU, and therefore reduces the risk of GMO contamination in the European food chain.
  • Cultivation of protein crops, such as field beans and peas, play a fundamental role in organic/low-input agriculture by improving soil fertility.
  • Farmers can produce animal feed on farm and therefore avoid extra costs associated with third party supply, logistics, delivery and handling.
Innovation weaknesses/threats:
  • Limited research available to determine the effects of alternative proteins on dairy animals’ production and long-term impact on health and fertility.
  • Protein content and biological value of local alternative protein crops are often lower than for soya.
  • Locally home-grown alternative proteins may be insufficient to fulfil year round demand of dairy farms, therefore feed from external sources may still be required.

A.3. Prolonged Maternal Feeding

The calves and lambs can suckle directly from their mothers (or a foster mother) for the first 3–5 months after they are born.
Innovation strength/opportunities:
  • Maternal feeding provides natural immunity for the animals.
  • Improvement in animal welfare, as animals are allowed to exhibit natural behavior.
  • Additional costs of buying milk replacer to feed the calves/lambs can be avoided.
Innovation weaknesses/threats:
  • Provision is needed for changes in the housing/handling of both mother and offspring.
  • Separation causes mother and offspring stress as they have had time to develop a strong social bond.
  • Reduction in the amount of milk available to sell commercially during the calf/lamb suckling period.

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Figure 1. Original farmer’s innovation acceptance model tested in our study—Modified Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) model.
Figure 1. Original farmer’s innovation acceptance model tested in our study—Modified Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) model.
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Figure 2. Information sharing with customers and suppliers: item results.
Figure 2. Information sharing with customers and suppliers: item results.
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Figure 3. Final estimated model. Standardized parameter estimates are shown with associated standard errors in parentheses. (In circles the following latent variables: Sn = Social Norm; useful = Perceived Usefulness; intention = Intention to adopt; in squares the measured items).
Figure 3. Final estimated model. Standardized parameter estimates are shown with associated standard errors in parentheses. (In circles the following latent variables: Sn = Social Norm; useful = Perceived Usefulness; intention = Intention to adopt; in squares the measured items).
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Table 1. Definition of the multi-item constructs.
Table 1. Definition of the multi-item constructs.
ConstructDefinitionItem CodeItem Wording
Attitude towards Use [18,19,20]A farmer’s positive or negative feeling associated with the adoption of the production strategy AA1I think that the adoption of such a production strategy in the dairy supply chain would be acceptable for my company.
AA2All things considered, I think that adopting this production strategy in the dairy supply chain is not a good idea. (*)
AA3I think that the adoption of such a production strategy in the dairy supply chain would be wise.
Perceived Ease of Use [3,6,19,21,22]The extent to which a farmer believes that using a particular production strategy would be free of effortPEOU1I think that the adoption of this production strategy in the dairy supply chain would require a substantial restructuring of supply chain activities and processes. (*)
PEOU2I think that the adoption of such a production strategy in the dairy supply chain would not demand much work.
PEOU3All things considered, I think that the adoption of such a production strategy in the dairy supply chain would require a large effort in training and advice. (*)
Perceived Usefulness [3,21,23]The extent to which a farmer believes that using a particular production strategy will enhance her farm performance.PU1I think that the adoption of this production strategy in the dairy supply chain would improve the profitability of my company.
PU2All things considered, I think that the adoption of such a production strategy in the dairy supply chain would not prove useful for my company. (*)
PU3I think that the adoption of this production strategy in the dairy supply chain would be advantageous for my company.
Perceived Financial Cost
Tung et al. 2008
PU4I think that the adoption of such a production strategy in the dairy supply chain would be too costly for my company.
Subjective Norm [3,6]A person perception of relevant opinions on wether to adopt the production strategy in the SCSN1I think that leading companies in the industry would favour the adoption of this production strategy in the dairy supply chain.
SN2I think that most people who are important to my company would favour the adoption of such a production strategy in the dairy supply chain.
SN3If it were widespread, I think that my company would favour the adoption of such a production strategy in the dairy supply chain.
Intention To Adopt [6,24]A person intention to adopt the production strategyIA1All things considered, my company would be very unlikely to adopt this production strategy. (*)
IA2I think that my company would adopt this production strategy.
Collaboration Index [16,17]Thinking about your own company, how often do you collaborate with your Customer (1)/ Supplier (2) on the following issues?CI1.1
CI2.1
CI1.2
CI2.2
CI1.3
CI2.3
Information sharing on innovation policy
Information sharing on certification issues
Information sharing on product quality
* Denotes a reverse-scored item.
Table 2. Hypotheses.
Table 2. Hypotheses.
Definition
H1Dairy farmers’ attitude towards a sustainable production strategy is positively associated with their intention to adopt it.
H2The more that a dairy farmer perceives a novel production strategy as useful, the more favourable is that farmer’s attitude towards its adoption.
H3The more a dairy farmer perceives a novel production strategy as easy to use, the more favourable is that farmer’s attitude towards its adoption.
H4The more that a dairy farmer perceives a novel production strategy as easy to use, the more that farmer will perceive that novel strategy as useful.
H5The more that a dairy farmer perceives the influence of social and peer pressure to be favourable, the more favourable that farmer is towards the adoption of sustainable production strategies.
H5.a Subjective norm is positively associated with perceived usefulness of the sustainable production strategies.
H5.b Subjective norm is positively associated with perceived ease of use of the sustainable production strategies.
H6The higher the information sharing within the supply chain the lower the effect of subjective norm on farmer’s acceptance of a sustainable production strategy.
H7Perceived ease of use associated to the sustainable production strategies is higher for organic farmers.
H8Perceived usefulness of the sustainable production strategies is higher for organic farmers.
Table 3. Description of the sample.
Table 3. Description of the sample.
CountryATBEDKFIITUKTOTAL
Total respondents73819354645190
-of which:
--Dairy Farmers43617352739161
--On-farm Dairy Processors322019632
-of which Organic72619123640140
Table 4. Measurement properties for the multi-item constructs: Confirmatory Factor Analysis (CFA) results.
Table 4. Measurement properties for the multi-item constructs: Confirmatory Factor Analysis (CFA) results.
ConstructStandard LoadingMeanS.D.Cronbach’s Alpha
Attitude towards use (AA) 0.90
AA10.93 ***4.131.89
AA2 (-)0.93 ***4.081.88
AA30.75 ***4.121.94
Perceived ease of use (PEOU) 0.67
PEOU1 (-)0.59 ***3.521.64
PEOU20.79 ***3.041.56
PEOU3 (-)0.50 ***3.171.52
Perceived Usefulness (PU) 0.91
PU10.95 ***3.811.82
PU2 (-)0.82 ***3.891.93
PU30.89 ***3.561.76
PU40.78 ***3.481.74
Subjective Norm (SN) 0.84
SN10.87 ***4.081.75
SN20.83 ***3.921.68
SN30.68 ***3.571.59
Intention To Adopt (IA) 0.90
IA1 (-)0.95 ***3.671.94
IA20.86 ***3.852.02
Collaboration Index (CI) 0.80
CI1.10.67 ***1.830.70
CI1.20.61 ***1.960.74
CI1.30.55 ***2.430.68
CI2.10.69 ***1.900.63
CI2.20.80 ***1.930.65
CI2.30.61 ***2.250.70
*** p < 0.001.
Table 5. Rank-weighted scores of tested sustainable strategies.
Table 5. Rank-weighted scores of tested sustainable strategies.
Rank-Weighted ScoreSum
Agroforestry26144276446
Alternative Proteins1446836248
Prolonged Maternal Feeding20168258446

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Naspetti, S.; Mandolesi, S.; Buysse, J.; Latvala, T.; Nicholas, P.; Padel, S.; Van Loo, E.J.; Zanoli, R. Determinants of the Acceptance of Sustainable Production Strategies among Dairy Farmers: Development and Testing of a Modified Technology Acceptance Model. Sustainability 2017, 9, 1805. https://doi.org/10.3390/su9101805

AMA Style

Naspetti S, Mandolesi S, Buysse J, Latvala T, Nicholas P, Padel S, Van Loo EJ, Zanoli R. Determinants of the Acceptance of Sustainable Production Strategies among Dairy Farmers: Development and Testing of a Modified Technology Acceptance Model. Sustainability. 2017; 9(10):1805. https://doi.org/10.3390/su9101805

Chicago/Turabian Style

Naspetti, Simona, Serena Mandolesi, Jeroen Buysse, Terhi Latvala, Philippa Nicholas, Susanne Padel, Ellen J. Van Loo, and Raffaele Zanoli. 2017. "Determinants of the Acceptance of Sustainable Production Strategies among Dairy Farmers: Development and Testing of a Modified Technology Acceptance Model" Sustainability 9, no. 10: 1805. https://doi.org/10.3390/su9101805

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