Date of Award

2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Plant and Soil Science

First Advisor

V. Ernesto Mendez

Abstract

Climate change forecasts tell of significant challenges ahead for agrifood systems at all scales, from global to highly local. Farmers are often at the forefront of these challenges. How farmers perceive climate related risks, and the actions they take to protect or adapt their lives and livelihoods are therefore a critical area of inquiry. The purpose of this dissertation is to describe how farmers in Vermont, in the Northeastern U.S., think about climate change, and how their experiences and perceptions influence engagement with adaptation or mitigation activities. To this end, my research questions included: (1) what are farmers already doing to address climate impacts on their farms? (2) Do farmers perceive climate change to be a risk, and if so what are they doing to address it? (3) Are farmers and agricultural technical service providers in agreement about the current performance of climate change adaptation strategies? (4) Can a qualitative typology of farmers describe the degree to which they are resilient in the face of climate change?

I conducted this research in the context of a larger, collaborative effort called the Vermont Agricultural Resilience in a Changing Climate Initiative (VAR), based at the University of Vermont. VAR served as an umbrella for transdisciplinary, participatory action research activities that capitalized on a diversity of perspectives and expertise, including the embedded knowledge of farmers and agricultural technical service providers. The VAR team as a whole and in sub-teams utilized a selection of research approaches including preliminary research activities that contributed to the development of research questions addressed in this dissertation, and primary research approaches used to answer those questions. This dissertation report consists of the following chapters: Chapters 1-2 present and introduction and background information related to climate change and agriculture, including a review of national, regional and site conditions as well as an overview of research purpose, approaches, methods, and theoretical frameworks applicable to the exploration of the questions and interpretation of findings. Chapters 3-6 address the following topics: (1) a case study in transdisciplinary participatory action research applied to climate change and agriculture in Vermont, (2) an analysis of farmer perceptions of climate related risk and associated on-farm adaptation strategies, (3) a report of farmer perceptions of climate change and comparison of farmer and technical service provider evaluations of potential climate change best management practices, and (4) a qualitative typology of farmer resilience.

This research is some of the first to address these topics from the perspective of farmers in the Northeastern U.S. Through these chapters, an important story is told about role that climate change plays in farm management today. The broader application of these findings is in the design of thoughtful programming and policies that support agrifood system resilience. I argue that social programs and policies that address agriculture and climate change should be informed by the experiences of farmers. When we weave together the knowledge of agricultural practitioners and our best scientific knowledge, we can better prepare for the changes in agrifood systems that a changing climate will require of us.

Language

en

Number of Pages

270 p.

Available for download on Thursday, June 01, 2017

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