Enhancing Farmers’ Adoption of Decision Support Tools to Improve Irrigation Management in Delaware

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Leah Palm-Forster

Professional Staff Mentor: Dr. Olesya Savchenko

Research Description:

Agricultural irrigation is by far the largest consumer of water in the U.S. Growing water shortages and uncertain effects of climate change require optimization of irrigation practices to reduce water demand at the farm level. Using insights from behavioral sciences, UD researchers will design a Randomized Control Trial (RCT) to understand decisions of agricultural producers to adopt irrigation management tools. Specifically, we will study the decisions of agricultural producers in Delaware to adopt the Delaware Irrigation Management System (DIMS) designed to assist farmers in optimizing the amount of water they use for irrigation, reducing crop stress, improving crop yield and decreasing nutrient loss. This research will also explore several behavioral interventions aimed at encouraging voluntary adoption and use of DIMS by Delaware agricultural producers. By addressing various aspects of water use behavior among agricultural producers, this project will generate policy relevant insights on how to effectively incentivize farmer adoption of agri-environmental decision support tools.

Research Questions:

  1. What factors influence Delaware farmers’ decisions to adopt a decision support tool such as DIMS?
  2. What types of incentives and behavioral interventions can increase the adoption and continuous use of DIMS by agricultural producers in Delaware?
  3. What are the behavioral impacts of providing agricultural producers with information about optimal irrigation management practices on adoption and continued use of DIMS?

Research Interns will be engaged primarily with the research project described above, but interns will have opportunities to be involved in other projects that are part of the Social Dimensions research for Project WiCCED (projectwicced.org); See Internship Descriptions for the following projects to learn about other Social Dimensions research opportunities:

  • Computer Programming for Economic Experiments
  • Evaluating How NYC “Wait” Pilot Program Inspires and Induces Behavioral Change
  • Social Networks and Oyster Consumption
  • Experimental economics study of groundwater management

Student Learning Objectives:  Professional and Research Skills

This internship focuses on the development of the following professional and scientific skills.


Broad Professional Skills

Specific Skills

Planning and time management

Ability to set and complete specific foals of varying scope

Express ideas in writing

Write descriptions of research procedures, create a poster of your research, communicate via email professionally and in a timely and consistent fashion

Express ideas verbally

Discuss research activity in lab meetings, present poster at symposium

Work independently

Independent work ethic – work independently or with peers to problem solve

Develop professional network

Work with lab team and broader Social Dimensions and Project WiCCED team to develop professional network, and utilize peer-groups to problem solve.

Maintain professional attitude and work principles (i.e. integrity, responsibility, diligence, following ethical standards)

Be on time, learn procedures, ask questions if unsure, respect everyone you work with, complete and maintain Institutional Review Board (IRB) Certification to work with human subjects in research


Broad Scientific Research Skills

Specific Skills

Understand scientific terms

Behavioral, experimental and environmental economics

Locate scientific articles and resources

Conduct searches for literature on environmental valuation

Understand research questions


Read and understand research articles


Apply research tools and techniques in research experiments

Participate in the development of and data collection of surveys to quantify willingness to pay for water quality improvements.

Understand, apply, and explain scientific concepts and theories

In lab meetings, with lab personnel, and during research symposium


None, but introductory experience with economics, crop science and/or computer science, is preferred.

Work Environment and Expectations:

Office/economics laboratory environment:  Work will primarily take place in 025 Townsend Hall. Hours are flexibly determined between student and mentor. Students will work part time during the fall and spring semesters, and full time during UD Winter Session, January 7-February 8, 2019. Students will also participate in a retreat, communications workshop, and end-of-internship spring symposium.