Consensus is growing that agriculture is vulnerable to climate change and adaptation responses are necessary to minimize impacts. Nonetheless, the diversity of potential impacts, agro-ecological contexts and regional capacity for change make understanding adaptation behaviors challenging and ensure that climate change adaptation will not be the same across all contexts. Considering this heterogeneity, this paper aims to develop a theoretical approach to connect agro-ecosystem diversity with farmer decision-making in the context of agricultural adaptation to climate change. We combine the ecological principle of Liebig’s Law of the Minimum with the Psychological Distance Theory to suggest how adaptation behaviors vary across regional contexts. We argue with our limiting factors hypothesis that limiting factors within a farm system (water or temperature impacts) influence the adoption of adaptation practices differently across regions and farm systems. Limiting factors varied across farm systems and regions, based on historical climate changes, agro-ecological contexts, infrastructure and adaptation capacity. Using farmer survey data from New Zealand we show that limiting factors mediate the effect of past climate experiences on the adoption of adaptation strategies differently in two regions with water acting as a limiting factor in Hawke’s Bay and water and temperature as a limiting factor in Marlborough. This suggests that farmers perceive and respond to climate change in part due to their personal experiences with climate change and the limiting factors within their system. Such results are relevant for the development of regional adaptation strategies, effective policies and targeted climate change communication.
Niles, M.T., Lubell, M., Brown, M. (2015) How limiting factors drive agricultural adaptation to climate change. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 200: 178-185