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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Madison, Wisconsin » U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center » Dairy Forage Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #337055

Research Project: Redesigning Forage Genetics, Management, and Harvesting for Efficiency, Profit, and Sustainability in Dairy and Bioenergy Production Systems

Location: Dairy Forage Research

Title: The Capacity-Building Stewardship Model: Assessment of an agricultural network as a mechanism for improving regional agroecosystem sustainability

Author
item Duff, Alison
item ZEDLER, PAUL - University Of Wisconsin
item BARZEN, JEB - International Crane Foundation
item KNUTESON, DEANA - University Of Wisconsin

Submitted to: Ecology and Society
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/13/2017
Publication Date: 3/20/2017
Citation: Duff, A., Zedler, P.H., Barzen, J.A., Knuteson, D.L. 2017. The Capacity-Building Stewardship Model: Assessment of an agricultural network as a mechanism for improving regional agroecosystem sustainability. Ecology and Society. doi:10.5751/ES-09146-220145.

Interpretive Summary: The importance of the agricultural land base to the stability of our food systems is understood, but the conservation value of farms is often overlooked. Ecosystem services are the benefits of nature that are essential to human well-being, and include functions such as flood mitigation, groundwater recharge, soil nutrient cycling, pollination, and insect pest predation. Sustainable agricultural production depends on conservation – and, in some cases, restoration – of ecosystem services. But it is challenging for agricultural producers to manage farms for production of both agricultural commodities and ecosystem services; a practical support system that builds their capacity for farm stewardship would be useful. To this end, we have developed a model stewardship support system based on our 20-year experience working with potato and vegetable growers in Wisconsin, USA. This model will help agricultural producers, university extension specialists, nonprofit conservation partners, and industry representatives in their efforts to advance sustainability in agricultural landscapes.

Technical Abstract: Working lands have potential to meet agricultural production targets while serving as reservoirs of biological diversity and as sources of ecological services. Yet agricultural policy creates disincentives for this integration of conservation and production goals. While necessary, the development of a policy context that promotes agroecosystem sustainability will take time, and successful implementation will depend on a receptive agricultural audience. As the demands placed on working lands grow, there is a need for regional support networks that build agricultural producers’ capacity for land stewardship. We used a social-ecological system framework to illustrate the Healthy Grown Potato Program as an agricultural network case study. Our Capacity Building Stewardship Model reflects a twenty-year experience working in collaboration with potato growers certified under an ecolabel in Wisconsin, USA. The model applies an evolving, modular farm stewardship standard to the entire farm – croplands and noncroplands. The model demonstrates an effective process for facilitating communication and shared learning among program participants, including agricultural producers, university extension specialists, nonprofit conservation partners, and industry representatives. The limitation of the model in practice has been to secure funding to support expansion of the program and to ensure that the ecolabel standard is responsive to changes in the social-ecological system. Despite this constraint, the Capacity-Building Stewardship Model reveals an important mechanism for building regional commitment to conservation, with agricultural producers in a leadership role as architects, adopters, and advocates for stewardship behavior. Our experience provides important insight for the application of agri-environment schemes on private lands. The durability of a conservation ethic on working farms is likely to be enhanced when networks engage and support producers in an ongoing stewardship dialogue. Stewardship networks provide a means for coordination of conservation practices across property boundaries. With sufficient enrollment, they can achieve the spatial scale necessary to enhance regional agroecosystem sustainability.