Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Environmental Resources & Policy
The combination of local farming practices (i.e. tiling, channelization) and global climate change has led to an increase in not only the severity, but also the frequency of extreme weather events in the Midwest, including droughts and floods. These can result in severe damage to watersheds, ecosystems, and communities. Climate change adaptations are vital to the maintenance of both sustainability and resilience of agro-ecosystems during severe weather events. They can allow agricultural producers to maintain the many functions of these systems, including food, fiber, and fuel production as well as water filtration, soil stability, carbon sequestration, and biodiversity. Implementation of these adaptations can be difficult for multiple reasons, but information sources, experts, and communities can assist with adoption through the diffusion of information. To assess the ability and willingness of agricultural producers to make these adaptations, and the role of information sources, I utilized survey data in three separate scenarios: 1.) producer interest in the adoption of switchgrass production, a novel adaptation; 2.) the adoption differences between producers who own farmland and those that rent farmland, and 3.) the opinions of experts and community members on the adoption of eight different climate change adaptations by farmers. The first study assesses the adoption of switchgrass, a dedicated biofuel perennial, which can be the first step in the transformation from an unsustainable, energy intensive production regime into a regime that provides both environmental sustainability (through water quality improvements) and financial stability for farmers. This study examines which characteristics predict interest in growing switchgrass through the analysis of a survey completed by farmers in the Clear Creek watershed in rural Iowa. Knowledge of switchgrass, education, and income are all highly correlated with interest in growing switchgrass. Long-term contracts with bio-refineries would also help farmers decrease adoption risk. Additionally, producers who use government agencies as information sources are more knowledgeable of switchgrass production. Results can help establish policies that could influence farmers to shift production from annual crops to perennial native biomass energy crops, and thus would increase the sustainability of the entire system. In areas where agricultural production is intensive, switchgrass production provides the potential to move from a contributor to climate change into a sector that contributes to the mitigation of climate change via reduction in energy-intensive input uses, production of renewable fuels, and sequestration of carbon in the soils. The second study focuses on conservation practice adoption among agricultural producers who rent land versus those who own the land they farm. Tenants and part-owners are farming an increasing number of acres in the United States, while full-owners are farming fewer acres. This shift in ownership is a potential cause for concern because some previous research indicated that tenant and part-owner farmers were not as likely to adopt conservation practices as farmers who owned the land they farmed. This study also uses survey data from the Clear Creek watershed in Iowa, and compares adoption of conservation practices and preferences for conservation information sources between farmers who rent some portion of the land they farm (tenants and part-owners) and farmers who own all of the land they farm (full-owners). Results show that renters are more likely to practice conservation tillage than full-owners, though they are less likely to rotate crops yearly. In addition, renters report using federal government employees (specifically, Natural Resource Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency employees) as their primary sources of conservation information, while full-owners most frequently rely on neighbors and friends and County Extension. These findings are significant for conservation policy because, unlike some past research, they indicate that renters are not resistant to conservation adoption. Finally, the last study examines the opinions of experts and community members about agriculture producers' ability and willingness to adopt adaptations in a large watershed in Iowa. A web-based survey of community members, government officials, and agricultural experts assesses perceptions of: barriers and drivers of adoption, and the adoption of specific adaptation practices. Through their knowledge of the community and their expertise in agriculture, the government, and the environment, the respondents are able to provide valuable information about climate change adaptations and the likelihood of adoption. Results show that transformative adaptations 1.) have more adoption barriers and 2.) will require severe weather events to occur more frequently than incremental adaptations for adoption to occur. This study will help to determine the factors that need to be addressed by governing agencies and resource management groups in order to reduce agro-ecosystem vulnerability to climate change events and provide adaptive capacity and resilience in the face of these emerging threats.
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