While farming has been the subject of frequent critical analysis with respect to its environmental impacts, including its greenhouse gas emissions, there has been relatively little consideration of the potentially positive role of agriculture in responding to a future greatly influenced by climate change. One possible realm for agriculture to contribute successfully to this future is through biofuels cultivation. This paper uses the state of Kansas as an example to examine factors that are influencing farmer decision-making during a time of heightened debates about climate and energy. Drawing on interviews with key informants and Kansas farmers, we apply and refine a conceptual model for understanding farmer decisions. We find that farmers have largely positive perceptions of the natural environment. Climate change, especially, is not a salient concern at this time. Factors that appear most likely to influence farmer decisions to adopt a new practice include the relative advantage of that practice and the ability to learn about and discuss it through existing social networks. Successful policy incentives must provide farmers with a continued sense of both independence and contribution to greater societal good.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Unless otherwise cited, Kansas demographic and agricultural statistics data shown here are from the Kansas Statistical Abstract for 2010 published by the KU Institute for Policy and Social Research (IPSR 2011).
Interviewee quotes are designated by the interviewee type and number. For example, “KI-4” indicates the fourth key informant interview.
Since drought conditions in 2011 and 2012 were much more severe than in 2010, we acknowledge that the timing of these interviews may have influenced the responses we received related to this topic. Further, irrigators rely on both surface and groundwater, and the variation in water source may also influence views of water availability.
While the interview questions asked the farmers about their communities, we left it to the individual interviewee to determine what the term “community” means. The nearest town was the most frequent interpretation of the term.
Atwell R, Schulte LA, Westphal LM (2009a) Landscape, community, countryside: linking biophysical and social scales in US Corn Belt Agricultural Landscapes. Landsc Ecol 24:791–806
Atwell R, Schulte LA, Westphal LM (2009b) Linking resilience theory and diffusion of innovations theory to understand the potential for perennials in the U.S. corn belt. Ecol Soc 14(1):30. http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol14/iss1/art30/. Accessed 26 Nov 2012
Boswell MR, Greve AI, Seale TL (2012) Local climate action planning. Island Press, Washington DC
Burton R (2004a) Reconceptualizing the ‘behavioral approach’ in agricultural studies. J Rural Stud 20:359–371
Burton R (2004b) Seeing through the ‘good farmer’s’ eyes: towards developing an understanding of the social symbolic value of ‘productivist’ behavior. Sociol Rural 44(2):195–215
Burton R, Wilson GA (2006) Injecting social psychology theory into conceptualisations of agricultural agency: towards a post-productivist farmer self-identity? J Rural Stud 22(1):95–115
Carr S, Tait J (1991) Differences in the attitudes of farmers and conservationists and their implications. J Environ Manag 32:281–294
Cheng AS, Krueger LE, Daniels S (2003) “Place” as an integrating concept in natural resource politics: propositions for a social science research agenda. Soc Nat Resour 16:87–104
Cope M, McLafferty S, Rhoads BL (2011) Farmer attitudes toward production of perennial energy grasses in east central Illinois: implications for community-based decision making. Ann Assoc Am Geogr 101(4):852–862
Coughenour CM (2003) Innovating conservation agriculture: the case of no-till cropping. Rural Soc 68(2):278–304
Creswell J (2013) Qualitative inquiry and research design: choosing among five approaches, 3rd ed. Sage, Thousand Oaks
Falconer K (2000) Farm-level constraints on agri-environmental scheme participation: a transactional perspective. J Rural Stud 16(3):379–394
Field DR, Voss PR, Kuczenski TK, Hammer RB, Radeloff VC (2003) Reaffirming social landscape analysis in landscape ecology: a conceptual framework. Soc Nat Resour 16:349–361
Foltz J, Zeuli K (2005) The role of community and farm characteristics in farm input purchasing patterns. Appl Econ Perspect Policy 27(4):508–525
Galpin CJ (1915) The social anatomy of an agricultural community. Agricultural experiment station bulletin no. 34. University of Wisconsin, Madison
Goldschmidt W (1948) Down on the farm: new style. Antioch Rev 8(2):179–192
Harrison CM, Burgess J, Clark J (1998) Discounted knowledges: farmers’ and residents’ understandings of nature conservation goals and policies. J Environ Manag 54:305–320
Hayes MN, Olmstead AL (1984) Farm size and community quality: Arvin and Dinuba revisited. Am J Agric Econ 66:430–436
Holloway L (1999) Understanding climate change and farming: scientific and farmers’ constructions of ‘global warming’ in relation to agriculture. Environ Plan A 31(11):2017–2032
Institute for Policy and Social Research (2011) Kansas statistical abstract 2010. http://www.ipsr.ku.edu/ksdata/ksah/KSA45.pdf. Accessed 27 Aug 2012
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007) Climate change 2007: impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability. In: Parry ML, Canziani OF, Palutikof JP, van der Linden PJ, Hanson CE (eds) Contribution of working group II to the third assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
International Energy Agency (2010) Sustainable production of second generation biofuels: potential and perspectives in major economies and developing countries. Paris (information paper)
Jensen K et al (2007) Farmer willingness to grow switchgrass for energy production. Biomass Bioenergy 31:773–781
Jordan N, Boody G, Broussard W, Glover JD, Keeney D, McCown BH, McIsaac G, Muller M, Murray H, Neal J, Pansing C, Turner RE, Warner K, Wyse D (2007) Sustainable development of the agricultural bio-economy. Science 316: 1570–1571
Kansas Energy Information Network (2012) Ethanol and biodiesel plant activity in Kansas: November 2012. http://kansasenergy.org/biofuels.htm. Accessed 26 Nov 2012
Kelsey KD, Franke TC (2009) The producers’ stake in the bioeconomy: a survey of Oklahoma producers’ knowledge and willingness to grow dedicated biofuel crops. J Ext 47(1). http://www.joe.org/joe/2009february/rb5.php. Accessed 26 Nov 2012
Landis PH (1933) The growth and decline of South Dakota trade centers 1901–1933. Agricultural experiment station bulletin no. 279. South Dakota State University, Brookings
Lehrer N (2010) (Bio)fueling farm policy: the biofuels boom and the 2008 farm bill. Agric Hum Values 27:427–444
Lyson TA, Welsh R (2005) Agricultural industrialization, anticorporate farming laws and rural community welfare. Eniron Plan A 37:1479–1492
Lyson TA, Torres R, Welsh R (2001) Scale of agricultural production, civic engagement and community welfare. Soc Forces 80:311–327
Mattison E, Norris K (2007) Intentions of UK farmers toward biofuel crop production: implications for policy targets and land use change. Environ Sci Technol 41(16):5589–5594
McEachern C (1992) Farmers and conservationists: conflict and accommodation in farming politics. J Rural Stud 8:159–171
McHenry H (1998) Wild flowers in the wrong fields are weeds! Examining farmers’ constructions of conservation. Eniron Plan A 29:1039–1053
Miles MB, Huberman AM (1994) Qualitative data analysis: a sourcebook for new methods, 2nd edn. Sage, Thousand Oaks
Morris C (2006) Negotiating the boundary between state-led and farmer approaches to knowing nature: an analysis of UK agri-environment schemes. Geoforum 37:113–127
Napier TL et al (2000) Adoption of conservation production systems in three midwest watersheds. J Soil Water Conserv 55:123–134
National Research Council, Committee on economic and environmental impacts of increasing biofuels production (2011) renewable fuel standard: potential economic and environmental effects of U.S. biofuels policy. National Academies Press, Washington DC
Ojima DS, Lackett JM (2002) Preparing for a changing climate: the potential consequences of climate variability and change. Central Great Plains. U.S. Global Change Research Program. http://www.nrel.colostate.edu/projects/gpa/gpa_report.pdf. Accessed 19 Dec 2011
Patton MQ (1990) Qualitative evaluation and research methods, 2nd edn. Sage, Newbury Park
Paulrud S, Laitila T (2010) Farmers’ attitudes about growing energy crops: A choice experiment approach. Biomass Bioenergy. doi:10.1016/j.biombioe.2010.07.007
Rogers EM (2003) Diffusion of innovations, 5th edn. Free Press, New York
Rosenzweig C, Solecki WD, Hammer S, Mehrotra S (eds) (2011) Climate change and cities: first assessment report of the urban climate change research network. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
Rossi A, Hinrichs C (2011) Hope and skepticism: farmer and local community views on the socio-economic benefits of agricultural bioenergy. Biomass Bioenergy 35(4):1418–1428
Silverman D (ed) (2011) Qualitative research, 3rd edn. Sage, Thousand Oaks
Tilman D, Socolow R, Foley JA, Hill J, Larson E, Lynd L, Pacala T, Reilly J, Searchinger T, Somerville C, Williams R (2009) Beneficial biofuels: the food, energy, and environment trilemma. Science 325:270–271
Tsouvalis J, Seymour S, Watkins C (2000) Exploring knowledge-cultures: precision farming, yield mapping and the expert/farmer interface. Environ Plan A 32:909–924
Wallender S, Claasen R, Nickerson C (2011) The ethanol decade: an expansion of US corn production, 2000–09. EIB-79, USDA, Economic Research Service
Wejnert B (2002) Integrating models of diffusion of innovations: a conceptual framework. Annu Rev Soc 28:297–326
White SS, Brown JC, Gibson J, Hanley E, Earnhart DH (2009) Planting food or fuel: developing an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the role of culture in farmer’s decisions to grow second-generation biofuel feedstock crops. Comp Technol Transf Soc 7(3):287–302
Wilson G, Hart K (2001) Farmer participation in agri-environmental schemes: towards conservation-oriented thinking? Sociol Rural 41(2):254–274
Wright W (2005) Fields of cultural contradiction: lessons from the tobacco patch. Agric Hum Values 22:465–477
The authors acknowledge funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR, EPS-0903806) and the University of Kansas Transportation Research Institute (KU-TRI). The authors thank Scott White and the Kansas Energy Information Network (KEIN) for assistance with our biofuels facilities map. They are also grateful to the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
White, S.S., Selfa, T. Shifting Lands: Exploring Kansas Farmer Decision-Making in an Era of Climate Change and Biofuels Production. Environmental Management 51, 379–391 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-012-9991-6
- Farmer decision-making
- Agricultural change