Finding common ground: Identifying barriers to sustainable agriculture transitions among Upper Midwest row crop farmers

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2022: $14,740.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2024
Grant Recipient: UW-Madison
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Randall Jackson
University of Wisconsin-Madison


  • Agronomic: corn, grass (misc. perennial), soybeans
  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, grazing - rotational
  • Education and Training: participatory research
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, partnerships, public participation, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Agricultural systems that build soil carbon and diversify our landscapes provide ecosystem services that benefit farmers and society at large. Perennial pastures seem to offer the best opportunity for achieving these benefits, while also contributing to an agricultural system that is profitable and resilient. However, if we are to transform our agricultural system from one dominated by annual row crops to one dominated by perennial pastures, we need the perspective of row crop farmers to create a successful transition. Specifically, this work will strive to identify barriers and motivations for row crop farmers to transition to perennial agriculture through meeting those farmers where they are at.  

    Row crop farmers in Iowa and Wisconsin will be contacted through snowball sampling, beginning with farmer contacts known to the research team. Interviews will be conducted with interested farmers, and they will be compensated for their time. The interviews will explore challenges to shifting towards sustainable agricultural practices. In addition, these conversations provide an opportunity for co-learning and identifying shared values. We want to work with farmers and intend to create a space where they feel empowered to voice their questions and concerns.

    Through engaging row crop farmers in these conversations, this project will increase knowledge of opportunities for improving the sustainability of our current agricultural system. For farmers, this can be facilitated by using decision-support tools, which may shift attitudes about perennial agriculture. For researchers, understanding barriers and bottlenecks to change enables us to be more effective in how we approach sustainable agriculture transitions and ensures that farmers are sufficiently supported throughout. With the emphasis on relationship-building and co-learning, this work can serve as an entry point for increasing perennial pastures on the landscape. 

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Through the proposed conversations with row crop farmers about transitions to sustainable agriculture, learning opportunities are present for both farmers and researchers. For researchers, a key outcome of this work is increased knowledge of barriers to transitioning from row crop agriculture to perennial pastures. As a long-term outcome of this research, increased adoption of perennial agriculture is anticipated as strategies to address identified barriers are incorporated into sustainable agriculture transformation plans. More frequent dialogue among diverse farmer groups and researchers are also expected given the importance of relationship-building within this work. Learning outcomes for row crop farmers include increased awareness of the environmental and economic benefits of perennial agriculture aided by the exploration of decision-support tools, which may lead to more positive attitudes towards perennial agriculture. However, the emphasis of this research will be on listening to row crop farmers and learning from them.

    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.