Tradeoffs of a rising agroecological practice: addressing uncertainty around tarping with participatory action research and mixed methods

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2019: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 11/30/2022
Grant Recipient: University of Vermont
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Gillian Galford
University of Vermont
ABSTRACT: Transitioning to more sustainable agricultural practices is a key goal in agroecology. Before practices are adopted, however, farmers must weigh a complex set of biophysical and socio-economic tradeoffs. Tarping is a weed control practice gaining popularity in New England, but many of its biophysical impacts remain unclear to farmers. Here, we used participatory action research to engage in mutual learning with farmers around the tradeoffs of tarping for weed control. We collected quantitative biophysical data with a field study and qualitative data on biophysical and socioeconomic factors by interviewing farmers. We found tarping has a number of benefits, challenges, and uncertainties, though most farmers had positive overall percep-tions of the practice. Many of our biophysical results matched farmers’ experiences, including that tarping dramatically heated soils, suppressed weeds, and increased crop yields. However, our mixed results for the effects of tarping on soil nitrate con-trasted farmers’ perception that tarping increases soil nitrate availability. Engaging in participatory and mixed methods research was an effective approach to unveil complex tradeoffs around tarping and ensure our research was relevant to farmer interests. Future research on long-term effects of tarps will be valuable to inform the sustainability of this practice.
Peer-reviewed Journal Article
Eva Kinnebrew, University of Vermont
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.