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Shifting Lands: Exploring Kansas Farmer Decision-Making in an Era of Climate Change and Biofuels Production


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.

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  1. 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).

  2. Interviewee quotes are designated by the interviewee type and number. For example, “KI-4” indicates the fourth key informant interview.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.


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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.

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Correspondence to Stacey Swearingen White.

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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).

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  • Farmer decision-making
  • Agricultural change
  • Kansas
  • Biofuels