Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Natural Resources

Committee Chair(s)

Mark W. Brunson


Mark W. Brunson


Dale Blahna


Layne Coppock


Recent years have seen changes in ecological conditions, ownership patterns, and political-legal forces that affect the sustainability of Western range livestock production. Enterprise diversification and implementation of improvements are advocated as ways for ranchers to cope with marginal returns from ranching while better managing resources. However, relatively few ranchers make such substantive changes in their operations, and previous research suggests that rates of adoption may be especially low in Utah.

Using a qualitative approach, this study explored innovation adoption among Utah ranchers. During preliminary interviews with 13 key informants, commitment to traditional ranching lifestyles, the state's settlement pattern, and availability of time and capital were identified as barriers to adoption. In-depth interviews were then conducted with 15 producers known within the ranching community for innovative management. Objectives of these interviews were to identify personal characteristics of the respondents, preferred information sources, and motivations for and barriers to adoption.

Most respondents were ranching full-time on multi-generation, family ranches, and living on or very near the ranch. Respondents innovate in order to improve profitability, environmental quality, and relationships with resource management agencies and to demonstrate good environmental stewardship to the public. Interaction with extension agents and ranching organizations was common and affected the perceived risk associated with adoption. Motivation to maintain the ranch may be especially strong among interviewees: Each respondent reported being committed to ranching for his lifetime, and in most cases, the ranch is expected to remain in the family for at least one more generation. Individuals who are less dependent on public land and more dependent on ranching income may be more likely to adopt innovations.

Even among innovative ranchers, the availability of time and capital as well as commitments to tradition impeded adoption. Unexpectedly, characteristics of the political-legal system in which ranchers operate emerged as barriers to innovation. This research illustrates how the existing innovation adoption framework applies to ranchers, but also defines new theoretical components.