Abstract The incentives of Dutch dairy farmers to participate in a voluntary Johne's Disease (JD) control programme were investigated using a case–control design. Furthermore, farm and farmers’ characteristics of case and control farmers were compared. Dairy farmers in the northern part of the Netherlands were interviewed based on a standardized questionnaire. Exact logistic regression analysis showed that participating farmers (case farmers) were more motivated by internal factors (that relate to farm performance and the individual farmer) than non-participating farmers (control farmers). For example, animal health and welfare awareness had an increased odds of 33.3, and economic losses due to JD of 4.5. External factors relating to the performance of the dairy sector as well as to consumer health, had little influence on the decision to participate. Case farmers were less interested in test costs than control farmers. Furthermore, the case farmers liked to have a well-organized farm now and in the future and tried to avoid (potential) economic losses due to JD as much as possible. They were more focused on future gains than on current costs. In contrast, the control farmers were motivated merely by the direct and future costs that related to the JD programme, including costs for changing management. The effect of currently being a control farmer, compared with case farmers, showed increased odds of almost 4 and 64-fold, respectively, on ‘change in test costs’ and ‘change in regulatory requirements’ as incentives to participate in the future.