Seeding a Good Farmer: The relationship between cover crop decision-making and farmer identity

Authors: Chloe Wardropper*, University of Idaho
Topics: Agricultural Geography, Behavioral Geography, Environmental Perception
Keywords: farmer decision-making, conservation, agroecological systems
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Governor's Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Cover crops (plants that provide cover on cropland between seasons for traditional cash crops) have been promoted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a means to increase the resilience of agricultural systems. Yet research on cover crops has yet to quantify their impacts on soil and agronomic productivity to a high degree of certainty across different agroecological systems. Farmers’ decisions with respect to cover crop adoption are thus based on structural and personal factors including financial incentives, past cropping decisions, and the extent to which the adoption of cover crops aligns with the farmer’s identity. This research draws on “good farmer” identity literature to understand how farmers reconcile productivist and conservationist identities while navigating the decision to adopt cover crops. Through semi-structured interviews with farmers in the wheat-growing region of Idaho and Washington, we found that farmers whose self-descriptions align more closely with a conservationist identity were more likely to have tried cover crops. However, every individual described interplay between these two facets of farmer identity. Furthermore, even when a farmer has decided to try cover crops, they may not continue the practice in future years, primarily due to structural and logistical reasons. We identify several promising interventions to increase the viability of cover crops in this region while validating individual farmers’ identities. Potential interventions include connecting wheat growers with livestock owners to enable grazing of cover crops and increasing on-farm experimental research on cover crops.

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