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Title: Drivers Impacting the Adoption of Sustainable Agricultural Management Practices and Production Systems of the Northeast and Southeast U.S

item Sassenrath, Gretchen
item Halloran, John
item Raper, Randy
item Vadas, Peter
item Hendrickson, John
item Archer, David
item Hanson, Jonathan

Submitted to: Journal of Sustainable Agriculture
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/12/2010
Publication Date: 7/1/2010
Citation: Sassenrath, G.F., Halloran, J.M., Raper, R.L., Vadas, P.A., Hendrickson, J.R., Archer, D.W., Hanson, J.D. 2010. Drivers Impacting the Adoption of Sustainable Agricultural Management Practices and Production Systems of the Northeast and Southeast U.S. Journal of Sustainable Agriculture. 34:680-702.

Interpretive Summary: Agriculture is the primary mechanism for synthesis of products necessary to support life and society. As such, the health of a country’s and the world’s agricultural systems is critical for the continued success and support of society. However, recent economic and environmental conditions have exposed weaknesses in current agricultural systems. Changes in the global economy have led to rapid increases in input costs of fuel and fertilizers. The initial gains in commodity prices and net farm income following the expansion of bio-fuel production quickly evaporated due to escalating input costs. Other resource constraints facing US agriculture are increased competition for water and land, and depletion of soil. Food production will always be paramount, but in an era of diminishing or degraded resources, the importance of transitioning agricultural production towards sustainability is of increasing importance. In this paper, we present the drivers and characteristics of the Northeastern production systems. We discuss the social/political, economic, environmental and technological factors that influence the production systems, and then explore interactions between the drivers and the unique characteristics of the production systems. We compare these to Southeastern agricultural systems, examine variances between the two regions, and potential causes of that variation. While the two regions have the same drivers impacting agriculture, the interactions between drivers and how they influence decision-makers do vary substantially to create unique regional characteristics of the production systems. Through an examination of the production systems, drivers and unique characteristics of the systems, we gain insight into the basis for producers’ decision making and the underlying principles of production. By identifying the responsiveness of current production systems to forces that are shaping agricultural production, we can determine successful strategies that can be used to address the future challenges to agriculture. This information can be used by producers, scientists and policy makers to direct agricultural production and agricultural research.

Technical Abstract: Agricultural production responds to economic, social, environmental, and technological drivers operating both internal and external to the production system. These drivers influence producers’ decision making processes, and act to shape the individual production systems through modification of production practices, crop and livestock mix, and marketing strategy. We examine typical Northeastern production systems, and explore key drivers impacting their unique characteristics and development. We contrast these Northeastern systems to Southeastern systems. Irrespective of location, farming is first and foremost a lifestyle choice. The internal social driver that values the farming lifestyle is the principle factor that leads people to choose farming. The type of farming is partly a lifestyle choice (organic versus conventional), and partly influenced by other external factors, including economic and environmental. The second most important driver is economic, arising from a need to make a living. This factor tempers the internal social driver. While new crops may begin with open market sales, over time many production systems shift towards contract sales as a method of managing risk and ensuring market access. The role of the farmer in developing the marketing contracts impacts the ultimate success of the marketing strategy. Farmers in the Northeast were able to take a more active role in determining contract terms than those in the Southeast, and were also more aggressive in developing new markets. Development of local markets and local community support strengthened the link between farming and the local community, and reinforced the sustainability of Northeastern production systems. With decreased reliance on commodity support programs, Northeastern producers faced greater risk, but also had greater flexibility in altering the crop and livestock mix and were better able to respond to consumer demand.