Reimer, A. P., M. K. Houser, and S. T. Marquart-Pyatt. 2020. Farming decisions in a complex and uncertain world: Nitrogen management in Midwestern corn agriculture. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation doi: 10.2489/jswc.2020.00070
Excess agricultural nitrogen (N) in the environment is a persistent problem in the United States and other regions of the world, contributing to water and air pollution, as well as to climate change. Efforts to reduce N from agricultural sources largely rely on voluntary efforts by farmers to reduce inputs and improve uptake by crops. However, research has failed to comprehensively depict farmers' N decision-making processes, particularly when engaging with uncertainty. Through analysis of in-depth interviews with US corn (Zea mays L.) growers, this study reveals how farmers experience and process numerous uncertainties associated with N management, such as weather variability, crop and input price volatility, lack of knowledge about biophysical systems, and the possibility of underapplying or overapplying. Farmers used one of two general decision-making management strategies to address these uncertainties: heuristic-based or data-intensive decision-making. Heuristic-based decision-making involves minimizing sources of uncertainty and reliance on heuristics and personal previous experiences, while data-intensive decision-making is the increased use of field- and farm-scale data collection and management, as well as increased management effort within a given growing season.
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