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Sustainable agriculture in the Corn Belt: production-side progress and demand-side constraints



Sustainable agriculture in the Corn Belt: production-side progress and demand-side constraints



American Journal of Alternative Agriculture 11(4): 168-174



This paper explores the constraints to sustainable agriculture in the Corn Belt stemming from the trend toward increased farm size and the continued dependence of the region on undifferentiated farm commodities produced for regional, national, and international markets. It is based on a three-county comparison of 14 full-time farmers who have embraced sustainable principles and practices, and a randomly sampled group of 25 farmers. An encouraging finding was the substantial progress made towards lower-input production of corn and soybeans by the nine farmers who had adopted the ridge tillage system, which uses elevated seedbeds, banded herbicides, and post-plant nitrogen application to reduce both sod erosion and synthetic chemical inputs while maintaining yields. However, operators of large farms that depend on hired labor and highly dispersed field sites regarded these practices as too risky at their scale of production despite their short-term economic and long-tenn environmental benefits. The region's commercial farmers appear split between family farmers who wish to avoid the headaches of scale expansion and hired labor, and therefore, embrace more efficient low-input systems such as ridge tillage versus those who reject the increased management intensity and risks of lower-input systems in favor of scale expansion via more chemical-intensive no-till systems. Although ridge tillage represents movement toward low-input cash grain production, low-input production systems alone are not sufficient to improve the underlying social welfare of rural areas. Arresting the trend towards fewer and larger farms will also require development of more specialized or more localized markets for sustainably produced commodities.

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Accession: 002973602

Download citation: RISBibTeXText

DOI: 10.1017/S0889189300007013


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