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Adoption of an Innovative Water Management System in Eastern Canada




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Water table management through controlled tile drainage and subsurface-irrigation (CDSI), retrofitting to conventional tile drainage, have been developed as beneficial water management practices (BWMPs) in eastern Canada. The implementation of the BWMPs aims to reduce adverse environmental impacts of irrigation and drainage and thus sustain agroecosystem services and crop productivity. Therefore, based on the underlying socio-economic benefits of retrofitting conventional tile drainage to BWMPs, farmers’ voluntary adoption of these agroecological beneficial technologies has been encouraged to improve agricultural water management and the agri-environment. Since an environmental profile of BWMPs is a prerequisite to understanding their socio- economic benefits, a life cycle assessment was conducted to assess the environmental impacts of CDSI on continuous corn production for the 2014 and 2015 growing seasons at St-Emmanuel, south-western Quebec, compared to the free drainage (FD) baseline scenario. Following the standard life cycle assessment process, inventory flows of corn production with CDSI and FD were developed using biophysical data from field experiments and public databases. Then, seven environmental categories were analyzed to compare the environmental impacts of corn production with CDSI and FD: (1) land use, (2) climate change, (3) eutrophication potential, (4) acidification potential, (5) human toxicity, (6) terrestrial ecotoxicity, and (7) freshwater ecotoxicity. As a result, the corn production system with CDSI suggested better environmental performances in most assessed impact categories than FD, including land use, climate change, eutrophication potential, human toxicity, terrestrial ecotoxicity, and freshwater aquatic ecotoxicity. However, it is worth noting that the high nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions in 2014 may increase the risks of climate change and acidification impacts from the implementation of CDSI. In conclusion, there exist comprehensive environmental benefits of implementing CDSI, particularly in improving water quality. However, potential synergy and tradeoffs of climate change, eutrophication, and acidification impacts from the implementation of CDSI, especially under different climatic conditions, should be investigated to stable the performance of the technology. The third paper employed the conceptual framework of co-benefits in climate change mitigation to quantitatively evaluate the co-benefits of implementing BWMPs. The evaluation method consists of financial analysis and life cycle assessment to measure the economic return and environmental benefits of investing in CDSI compared with the Base technology of conventional free drainage system. Based on the field experiments conducted on a continuous corn production system for the 2014 and 2015 growing seasons in St-Emmanuel, Quebec, co-benefits were estimated as the sum of the differences in net present value and the reduction in environmental costs between BWMPs and Base technology. As a result, the assessed co-benefits of implementing BWMPs compared to Base technology were around $129.42 - $142.03 per hectare under median-level environmental prices; $158.29 - $231.74 per hectare under upper-level environmental prices. The positive co-benefits illustrate the additional benefits of implementing BWMPs in addition to GHG emission mitigation. Accordingly, BWMPs can be developed and adopted as farm-level adaptation practices to climate change. Next, based on a conceptual framework for environmental-economic decision-making with multi-criteria analysis (MCDA), GIS-based MCDA was used to analyze and estimate the decision-making of implementing beneficial water management practices (BWMPs) in Ontario, Canada. Decision-making from private and public perspectives was concerned with diverse economic and environmental priorities in this study. The results included a farm- scale case study and an extended regional-scale decision map of BWMPs implementation. Specifically, in the research farm case study, private farmers may not implement BWMPs due to their high priorities for economic criteria. In contrast, BWMPs should be selected by the public for their fairly environmental benefits to society. Likewise, the regional decision map regarding GIS-based MCDA displays that projected areas of implementing BWMPs with private and public concern differ for 22.10% and 44.38%, respectively, of Ontario 2016’s total land in crops. Conclusively, conflicted decisions from private and public perspectives regarding implementing BWMPs can inhibit the farmers’ voluntary adoption of BWMPs and the achievement of public environmental goals in agriculture. The dilemma between private and public concern suggests the rationale for evoking agri-environmental policy in grant- ing incentives to support the adoption of BWMPs, such as green payments, environmental stewardship programs and extension activities. Paper in chapter 5 employed agent-based modelling (ABM) to calibrate the policy-induced dynamic adoption/diffusion process of agri-environmental technology due to previous micro- level studies’ limitations of using the econometric models from the ex-post perspective and the absence of policy interventions. A framework of policy-induced agri-environmental technology was introduced with model components and implementation process based on related research regarding technology adoption and ABM. Further, results were simulated from an agent-based model given the presumed policy programs regarding the adoption of BWMPs in a case study of Essex county, Ontario, Canada. The results highlighted the dynamic adoption/diffusion process and policy evaluation to explain how ABM can support the agri- environmental policy design. Conclusively, the model provided a flexible quantitative tool to support ex-ante evaluation and design of policy regarding social-ecological systems, based on forecasting farmers’ adoption decision-making and outcomes in a future period. Lastly, potential improvements to extend the inherent farmers’ adoption behaviour algorithm, computing capability, and model validation were discussed for future research. The four papers in this thesis build together an interdisciplinary case of constructing a comprehensive analytic and decision-making system for the adoption of an innovative water management system in eastern Canada. Based on the socio-economic assessment, the environmental improvements of BWMPs implementation, mainly in reducing GHG emissions and eutrophication, primarily support the adoption prospects of this innovative water management system as a climate change mitigation and adaptation measure in eastern Canada. However, the conflicting decisions on BWMPs implementation from private and public perspectives prevent farmers’ voluntary adoption of BWMPs, implying the rationale for policy instruments. Accordingly, an agent-based model was developed for predicting the policy- induced adoption process of BWMPs as a ”test-bed” tool for policy design and evaluation. Finally, this thesis recognizes the scientific knowledge and policy implications regarding the adoption of BWMPs to support agricultural sustainability in eastern Canada, particularly aiming at climate change mitigation and adaptation.



Beneficial Water Management Practices, Controlled Tile Drainage and Sub-irrigation, Socio-economic Assessment, Technology Adoption, Agent-based Modelling, Eastern Canada



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Agricultural and Resource Economics


Agricultural Economics


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