Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 355–370 | Cite as

Identifying the challenges of promoting ecological weed management (EWM) in organic agroecosystems through the lens of behavioral decision making

  • Sarah ZwickleEmail author
  • Robyn Wilson
  • Doug Doohan


Ecological weed management (EWM) is a scientifically established management approach that uses ecological patterns to reduce weed seedbanks. Such an approach can save organic farmers time and labor costs and reduce the need for repeated cultivation practices that may pose risks to soil and water quality. However, adoption of effective EWM in the organic farm community is perceived to be poor. In addition, communication and collaboration between the scientific community, extension services, and the organic farming community in the US is historically weak. In order to uncover the most persistent obstacles to promoting effective weed management in organic agroecosystems, we use the mental models approach to generate an expert model based on interviews with experts (e.g., weed scientists, weed ecologists, and extension personnel) and theories from the behavioral sciences. The expert model provides two main insights: (1) EWM is a complex strategy that may cause farmers to use heuristics in management decisions and (2) the long-term benefits of EWM, rather than the risks, need to be emphasized in communication with and outreach to organic farmers. The basis for new research topics and outreach material that incorporates these insights from the expert model are discussed. We briefly explain how the expert model is an incomplete picture of on-farm practices, but provides the basis for the second step of our mental models research, the farmer interviews and farmer decision model development.


Mental model Ecological weed management Behavioral decision making Organic farmers Expert knowledge 



We would like to thank all of the interviewees for their time and continued feedback. We would also like to thank Dr. Emmy Regnier for proof reading the manuscript and offering her expertise in weed management. This research was supported by the United States Department of Agriculture, Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative competitive grant program “Mental Models and Participatory Research to Redesign Extension Programming for Organic Weed Management” (USDA Award No. 2009-51300-05653).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Environment and Natural ResourcesThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA
  2. 2.Horticulture and Crop SciencesThe Ohio State UniversityWoosterUSA

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