"Opportunities and barriers to certified organic grain production on rented farmland in the U.S. Midwest state of Indiana"

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2017: $194,663.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2021
Grant Recipient: Purdue University
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Tamara Benjamin
Purdue University
Michael O'Donnell
J F Farms / Living Prairie Family Farms
Organic certification provides an opportunity for crop farmers to improve their viability and reduce the environmental impacts of commodity grain production, yet farmers have only transitioned to organic certification on less than five percent of US farmland. We focus on land tenure as a barrier to wider adoption of organic certification in the Midwest state of Indiana, where 50 % of farmland is rented. Addressing the lack of research on the relationship between tenant farmers and their non-operating landowners, we show how these relationships affect the adoption of conservation practices. Presenting findings from a survey and 30 in-depth interviews with conventional, transitioning, and organic farmers in Indiana, we show significant differences in land tenure arrangements for farmers certified and transitioning to organic compared to farmers only using conventional practices. We contextualize tenant-landlord relationship dynamics across the spectrum of practice adoption, illustrating how land tenure arrangements shape conservation management decision making. Our findings illustrate the barriers and opportunities to adoption of organic certification, given the variability in landowners’ interest in organic certification. While conventional tenant farmers described long-term rental relationships characterized by a sense of trust, the high level of competition for access to rented farmland exerted pressure on them to conform to perceived norms about farming practices and avoid consideration of more risky and less socially acceptable or familiar conservation practices, for fear of losing their landlord’s confidence and trust.
Peer-reviewed Journal Article
Target audience:
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.