Soil as Social-Ecological Feedback: Examining the “Ethic” of Soil Stewardship among Corn Belt Farmers
Arbuckle, J. Gordon
In this article we examine in-depth interviews with farmers (n = 159) from nine Corn Belt states. Using a grounded theory approach, we identified a “soil stewardship ethic,” which exemplifies how farmers are talking about building the long-term sustainability of their farm operation in light of more variable and extreme weather events. Findings suggest that farmers' shifting relationship with their soil resources may act as a kind of social-ecological feedback that enables farmers to implement adaptive strategies (e.g., no-till farming, cover crops) that build resilience in the face of increasingly variable and extreme weather, in contrast to emphasizing short-term adjustments to production that may lead to greater vulnerability over time. The development of a soil stewardship ethic may help farmers to resolve the problem of an apparent trade-off between short-term productivist goals and long-term conservation goals and in doing so may point toward an emergent aspect of a conservationist identity. Focusing on the message of managing soil health to mitigate weather-related risks and preserving soil resources for future generations may provide a pragmatic solution for helping farmers to reorient farm production practices, which would have soil building and soil saving at their center.
This article is published as Roesch‐McNally, Gabrielle, J. Gordon Arbuckle, and John Charles Tyndall. "Soil as Social‐Ecological Feedback: Examining the “Ethic” of Soil Stewardship among Corn Belt Farmers." Rural Sociology (2017). doi: 10.1111/ruso.12167. Posted with permission.