Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
Community Development and Applied Economics
Planetary sustainability hinges on transforming agriculture. Agriculture is both a fundamental driver of climate change as well as vulnerable to its adverse impacts. Furthermore, with increasing demands for agricultural production due to both global population increase and more affluent populations, its pressures on water quality, water availability and soil health are profound. To address these rising demands and pressures, climate smart agriculture and precision agriculture are touted as highly technical solutions with great merit in providing economic efficiencies as well as socio-environmental sustainability goals. With these promising technologies using high-resolution data, comes key challenges surrounding data privacy, access, and power. Further, transparent and open-source availability of farm-level data presents opportunities and challenges for policymakers to design incentive mechanisms that align with farmer needs to transition to more sustainable agricultural production. In the second article, precision agriculture (PA), a suite of technologies employing satellite imagery, machine learning, and big data, has been posited to enable sustainable transitions through precisely applying inputs and maximizing outputs. To address the future opportunities and challenges related to precision agriculture as a means of actualizing sustainable transitions, we use a pluralistic anticipatory governance framework. A mixed methods approach to analyze data from diverse stakeholder focus groups in South Dakota and Vermont including foresight methods, thematic analysis of discussions, and surveys to assess and anticipate governance of precision agriculture technologies in the present and future. Our findings show that these technologies offer powerful tools to assess the performance of sustainable practices and motivate farmers’ decision-making toward sustainable transitions. Precision agriculture offers many possibilities for transitioning food production towards global sustainability goals, yet challenges associated with farm scale, data ownership, ethics of Artificial Intelligence technologies and lackluster response of regulatory agencies to understand the implications of PA emerged as important areas of research and societal concern. Farmers’ motivation in operationalizing sustainable transitions is integral, the focus of the first article. Currently incentivized agricultural practices that sequester carbon, and reduce phosphorus and nitrogen runoff as well as increase farmer productivity through improved soil health are not widely adopted. Thus, the financial motivations offsetting risk and uncertainty may not be sufficiently aligned with farmer needs, leading to the governance challenge of incentive compatibility. In order to understand and improve the incentive structures for improving adoption of such practices, we investigate farmers’ willingness to accept (WTA) payment for three practices: cover cropping, conservation tillage, and buffer strips. With three separate waves of data collected from farmers in Missisquoi and Lamoille watersheds in the Lake Champlain Basin, using the same survey instrument in 2013, 2015, and 2020, we estimate a Weighted Least Squares model to ascertain WTA using conjoint analysis. Our findings show that incentives were significant in 2015 with a higher magnitude of effect, while in 2020 incentives are weaker and not significant. The survey waves of 2015 and 202 suggest financial motivations offsetting risk and uncertainty may not be sufficiently aligned with farmer needs, leading to the governance challenge of incentive compatibility. Effective governance of sustainable transitions in agriculture is directly dependent on the incentive motivations as well as empirically verifiable performance criteria for reducing carbon, phosphorus and nitrogen emissions from the farms while maintaining or even increasing agricultural productivity. Precision agriculture provides novel methodologies in measuring and communicating carbon, phosphorus and nitrogen pollution as well as yield, with the potential to integrate these methodologies into performance-based incentive-compatible payment for ecosystem service mechanisms. Such technologies and policies are critical in enabling sustainability transitions in agriculture, yet established responsible and sustainable innovation frameworks are needed to ensure data privacy and equity in meeting the demands of farms of the future at all scales of production.
Number of Pages
Ryan, Benjamin E., "Sustainability Transitions With Precision Agriculture And Compatible Incentives For Farmers" (2022). Graduate College Dissertations and Theses. 1510.
Available for download on Sunday, December 10, 2023