Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 341-352

First online:

Contextualizing farmers’ attitudes towards genetically modified crops

  • Kazumi KondohAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology, Washington State University Email author 
  • , Raymond A. Jussaume Jr.Affiliated withDepartment of Community and Rural Sociology, Washington State University

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Analyses of the role of technological development in agriculture are central to an understanding of social change in agri-food systems. The objective of this paper is to contribute to the formation of a broader perspective of how farmers are positioning themselves with respect to controversial agricultural technologies through an empirical analysis of Washington State farmers’ willingness or unwillingness to try Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) technology on their farms. The use of this type of biotechnology in farming has been criticized for its potential harmful effects on natural environments and socio-cultural systems, while proponents highlight the possibilities for increasing production with minimal use of other inputs. An analysis of the extent of farmers’ expressed willingness to use GMOs provides an opportunity to better understand how their diverse thoughts about controversial agricultural technologies are shaped not only by their own experiences but also by social context. The present study does this by analyzing data from a farm survey conducted on a random sample of farmers from across Washington State. The results show that the production practices farmers utilize and the market strategies they employ may be at least as useful as farmers’ socio-economic characteristics in explaining what types of farmers appear to be more or less interested in potentially using this technology. Furthermore, the relationship between level of formal education and willingness to use GMOs is not straightforward. It may hide differences between farmers with respect to where and how they received their formal education as well as the type(s) of knowledge they gained. It is argued that future research should recognize the diversity that exists in farmers’ interests vis-á-vis particular technologies and should also explore how these interests are shaped by farmers’ past and present social networks and life experiences.

Key words

Agricultural biotechnology Education Farmer attitudes GMOs Socio-cultural characteristics Technology adoption Washington State