User responses to imperfect forecasts: Findings from an experiment with Kentucky wheat farmers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Weather and climate forecasts can help agricultural producers improve management choices in anticipation of uncertain growing conditions. Current literature conjectures that the extent to which forecasts are useful depends on their accuracy, that is, the probability with which a forecasted event, such as precipitation, is projected to occur. Too little accuracy can potentially render forecasts effectively useless, even if they convey some form of information. In this study, we collect farmer-based data through a questionnaire and a framed field experiment to test for the existence of an accuracy threshold for forecasts, below which forecasts do not induce any behavioral changes. We do this in the context of a very specific management choice—the timing and amount of nitrogen that Kentucky farmers apply to their wheat in early spring—in response to randomly generated 6-to-10-day forecasts of rainfall conditions. We find that forecasts provide economically significant value to decision-makers only when they depart dramatically from what is normally expected. These results have implications that extend beyond the nitrogen-application decision for winter wheat: if this type of behavior is widespread, at current accuracy levels, other types of forecasts may be of little value to decision-makers and therefore go unheeded.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)791-808
Number of pages18
JournalWeather, Climate, and Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments. The authors wish to thank the late Don Halcomb for his valuable feedback on the study design, as well as the organizers of the 2015 University of Kentucky Winter Wheat Conference for allowing us to carry out this study. We are deeply appreciative of Matt Dixon and Rezaul Mahmood, who shared their time and expertise in helping us to understand the meteorological literature and the local precipitation data. We are also grateful to Carl Dillon at the University of Kentucky, and the faculties of the departments of Food and Resource Economics and Agricultural and Biological Engineering at the University of Florida for input on earlier versions of this work, particularly Senthold Asseng. This work was funded by the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under Hatch Project 1006174.

Funding Information:
Meeting in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, a conference hosted by the University of Kentucky and sponsored, in part, by the Kentucky Small Grain Growers Association. It is a day-long event in which researchers and extension specialists from various disciplinary fields and multiple Kentucky universities hold educational sessions. This conference is widely publicized and highly attended, with attendees comprising mostly producers and crop advisers, the latter being able to earn continuing education credits for attending. All attendees in the auditorium were invited to participate in the session. The session began with a 10-min presentation explaining the experiment, followed by 15 min to complete a questionnaire, and the experiment itself, which took 25 min. Participants responded to the questionnaire and experiment with paper and pens provided by the researchers. All responses were then manually digitized for analysis.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 American Meteorological Society.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Atmospheric Science


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