Reimer, A., J. E. Doll, T. J. Boring, and T. Zimnicki. 2022. Scaling up conservation agriculture: An exploration of challenges and opportunities through a stakeholder engagement process. Journal of Environmental Quality doi: 10.1002/jeq2.20317
Increasing the resilience of agricultural landscapes requires fundamental changes to the dominant commodity production model, including incorporating practices such as reduced tillage, cover cropping, and extended rotations that reduce soil disturbance while increasing biological diversity. Increasing farmer adoption of these conservation systems offers the potential to transform agriculture to a more vibrant, resilient system that protects soil, air, and water quality. Adoption of these resilience practices is not without significant challenges. This paper presents findings from a participatory effort to better understand these challenges and develop solutions to help producers overcome them. Through repeated, facilitated discussions with farmers and agricultural and conservation professionals across the U.S. state of Michigan, we confronted the policy, economic, and structural barriers that are inhibiting broader adoption of conservation systems, as well as identified policies, programs, and markets that can support their adoption. What emerged was a complex picture and dynamic set of challenges at multiple spatial scales and across multiple domains. The primary themes emerging from these discussions were barriers and opportunities including: markets, social networks, human capital, and conservation programs. Exacerbating the technical, agronomic, and economic challenges farmers face at the farm level, there are a host of community constraints, market access and availability problems, climatic and environmental changes, and policies (governmental and corporate) that cross-pressure farmers when it comes to making conservation decisions. Understanding these constraints is critical to developing programs, policies, and state and national investments that can drive adoption.
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