Date of Award

2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Plant and Soil Science

First Advisor

Joshua W. Faulkner

Abstract

A complex of social, economic and environmental factors influences agricultural management in the northeastern US. Farmers often balance goals of farm viability, environmental stewardship, and resilience to climate change, while also under public pressure to enhance the provisioning of ecosystem services from their landscapes. Changes in farm management have been identified as cost-effective ways to address both local water quality issues, and global anthropogenic influences on greenhouse gas concentrations. Individual decision-making on the part of farmers that determines the fate of ecosystem service provisioning from agroecosystems, placing increasing importance on understanding how policy, outreach and research can support farmers’ capacity

This dissertation explores the way agricultural management is changing in the face of emerging environmental crises in the northeastern US. I use stakeholder engagement and transdisciplinary research that highlights farmers as key decision makers to gain insight into the unique decision-making contexts of farmers and the resources they need to better address pressing environmental challenges.

In the first study, I use focus groups to explore a complex and resource constrained decision-making context described by a sample of Vermont farmers. Their perspectives illustrate a strong stewardship ethic, a desire to learn more about their agroecosystem, and both hope and skepticism about new payment for ecosystem services incentive programs.

In the second study, I integrate social, economic and biophysical data to estimate the supply of ecosystem services from alternative soil and nutrient management strategies at the field-scale, and illustrate feedbacks from ecosystem services on farmers’ decisions. This transdisciplinary study finds that subsurface nutrient loss pathways and soil surface greenhouse gas emissions are poorly understood, but also potentially the most important in determining the impact of a practice on ecosystem services supply.

In the third study, I use information from multiple phases of a participatory action research study with sustainable agriculture networks in the northeastern US to explore how farmer networks support adaptive capacity and sustainability transitions in agriculture. First, I use binomial logistic regression analysis to identify factors that influence the use of no-till on diversified vegetable and berry farms, which is an emerging innovation for climate adaptation in this community. The analysis shows that climate beliefs, perceived capacity and affiliation with certain farmer networks are significant in predicting the use and intended use of this practice. This quantitative analysis is complemented by qualitative data from a series of focus groups in which farmers identify the characteristics of certain networks which support them in addressing new challenges. This work contributes to scholarship on understanding how farmer networks enhance collective problem-solving and adaptation to climate change.

Language

en

Number of Pages

188 p.

Available for download on Saturday, December 11, 2021

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