Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 31, Issue 4, pp 621–635 | Cite as

Transitions to agroecological farming systems in the Mississippi River Basin: toward an integrated socioecological analysis

  • Jennifer Blesh
  • Steven A. Wolf


Industrial agriculture has extensive environmental and social costs, and efforts to create alternative farming systems are widespread if not yet widely successful. This study explored how a set of grain farmers and rotational graziers in Iowa transitioned to agroecological management practices. Our focus on the resources and strategies that farmers mobilized to develop opportunities for, and overcome barriers to, transitioning to alternative practices allows us to go beyond the existing literature focused on why farmers transition. We attend to both the ecological and socioeconomic context of innovation by comparing processes of technical change in two contrasting regions of Iowa. Farmers cultivated farm-level biodiversity and enterprise diversity, developed new cognitive and psychological competencies, and overcame barriers to innovation by developing external network linkages with peers, knowledge organizations, and federal policies. Our research provides insights into how biophysical, cognitive, structural and market considerations can be integrated into research efforts that aim to make sense of innovation toward sustainable agriculture.


Agroecology Competencies Innovation Iowa Resource-based view Sustainable transitions 



We thank Laurie Drinkwater, Stefanie Hufnagl-Eichiner, Ryan Galt, and Sara Keene for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this manuscript. We thank Mark David for providing the map of MRB counties for Figure 1. We especially thank the farmers who shared their time to participate in the study. This research was supported by NSF Biocomplexity in the Environment-CHN (Project Number 0508028; L.E. Drinkwater and others).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Natural Resources and EnvironmentUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.Department of Natural ResourcesCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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