Assessing structural barriers and bridges to agricultural diversification in the U.S.

Authors: Kaitlyn Spangler*, Utah State University, Britta Schumacher, Utah State University , Brennan Bean, Utah State University, Emily Burchfield, Emory University
Topics: Agricultural Geography, Land Use, Food Systems
Keywords: agriculture, landscape, U.S., agroecology, diversification
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 12
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Modern agriculture has drastically transformed to support increasing demand for food and commodities. However, this productivity has come at the cost of ecological health and social justice, resulting in highly simplified agricultural landscapes and widening socioeconomic inequities. With concern over these negative implications and drawing on a political agroecology framework, this research assesses macro- and mesoscale drivers of agricultural land use diversity across the U.S. At the macroscale, we utilized open-source national datasets to assess past and current trends in agricultural land use and the federal policy structure. Through exploratory mapping and data mining techniques, we visualized trends in cropland transitions, crop composition, and the policy structure of the Farm Bills. At the mesoscale, we estimated a series of regional random forest regression models for the years 2012 and 2017 to predict agricultural land use diversity for each county in the U.S. We further identified how variable importance and model performance fluctuated across regions to help illustrate the systemic “lock-ins” within which agricultural landscapes are managed. We find that, nationally, U.S. agriculture has become intensely regulated and specialized; crop production is heavily concentrated, crop diversity is declining, larger farms are outcompeting smaller operations, and the scope and influence of the Farm Bills has increased. Regionally, the factors that predict agriculturally diverse landscapes vary widely, representing spatially explicit “lock-ins” that either promote or inhibit diversification. Integration of these analyses contributes to a multiscale framework for assessing the structural barriers and bridges to agricultural diversification within which farmers and farmworkers operate within.

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