Agricultural Landscape Design through Participatory Modeling: Collaboration among Diverse Stakeholder Groups

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2005: $9,998.38
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Grant Recipient: Iowa State University
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Lisa Schulte Moore
Iowa State University

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn


  • Crop Production: agroforestry, forestry, intercropping, strip tillage
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, focus group, participatory research
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, hedges - woody, riparian buffers, riverbank protection, wetlands, wildlife
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, public participation, social capital, social networks, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Intensification of agriculture in the Midwestern U.S. Corn Belt has been implicated in deteriorating surface water quality, declining native biodiversity, and growth of the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Contrary to what might be expected, this loss of ecosystem health and functioning has not been accompanied by concomitant social or economic gains in rural communities; the number of farms and farmers has decreased as the share of the agricultural market returned to locally owned and operated farms is steadily subsumed by non-farm entities. Recent research suggests that agricultural policy rewarding farmers for stewardship of natural habitat and restoration of perennial cover to portions of the landscape may increase both ecosystem health and rural social vitality. Missing from this approach is an understanding of rural stakeholders’ perceptions of the tradeoffs involved in a change of landscape and farm management practice, and the types of policy scenarios that would motivate the implementation of such change. To fill this major gap, I propose a transdisciplinary approach that engages grassroots groups in envisioning workable futures for Midwestern Corn Belt landscapes. Through a series of workshops, stakeholder groups, including farmers, land managers, policy makers and research scientists, will collaborate in development of a model integrating social, economic and ecological aspects of landscape change. Stakeholders will then apply the model to evaluate the effectiveness of diverse policy scenarios and to search for win-win solutions for people and the land. Interviews and surveys of participants will describe stakeholders’ land ethics, represent minority opinions and evaluate the effectiveness of the participatory process.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    I propose a transdisciplinary modeling approach to engage grass-roots groups in developing workable policy solutions to agricultural landscape change in the North Central Corn Belt Region.

    The short term outcomes of this research are to: 1) represent the perspectives of stakeholders—including farmers, land managers, policy makers and research scientists—directly to one another through a series of workshops, 2) facilitate stakeholder development of a qualitative model integrating social, economic and ecological aspects of landscape change, 3) document possible policy scenarios under which stakeholders are willing to implement such change, and 4) build an understanding of the values and land ethics of rural stakeholders.

    Intermediate term outcomes include: 1) formalized development and implementation of a user-friendly Excel and Stella based model for use in landscape design, education and policy development, 2) publication of results in peer review, farm and management journals, and 3) delivery of a succinct report to relevant policy channels.

    My long term objectives for this research are to develop, test and refine methodology for mediating communication, creativity, design and education among diverse public sectors. Future applications of the resultant model will be expanded to include GIS models of real landscapes, game-type simulations, and/or photo-realistic virtual reality tours.

    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.