Reimer, A., J. E. Doll, B. Basso, S. T. Marquart-Pyatt, G. P. Robertson, D. Stuart, and J. Zhao. 2017. Moving toward sustainable farming systems: Insights from private and public sector dialogues on nitrogen management. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 72:5A-9A.

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Agricultural systems face the challenge of increasing production to meet growing global demand for food while protecting the natural resource base in a changing climate. Major environmental challenges include rebuilding soil health after centuries of heavily extractive production systems, improving water and air quality, and contributing to climate change mitigation (Robertson 2015). These resource problems are diffuse and pervasive, resulting from the decisions of individual farmers who are struggling to balance production with environmental protection. Moreover, public policies in the United States promote large-scale monoculture production and heavy reliance on industrial inputs through direct subsidies and insurance options that limit farmer choices (Iles and Marsh 2012; Stuart and Gillon 2013). Meeting these challenges requires a multipronged and multilayered approach: actions by thousands of individual farmers supported by research into new approaches, education about emerging practices and technologies, and policies that promote sustainability.

These types of challenges have been described as wicked problems (Batie 2008) because they are dynamic, complex, and occur in both technical and social dimensions as compared to problems with straightforward causes and effects that are largely solvable through technical solutions. In the agri-environmental context, wicked problems arise because farming is both an ecological and a socioeconomic process.

DOI: 10.2489/jswc.72.1.5A

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Social Science Studies

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