Social and Cultural Factors Affecting Sustainable Farming Systems and the Barriers to Adoption

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1992: $72,018.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1995
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $58,037.00
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:
Sonya Salamon
University of Illinois

Annual Reports


  • Animals: bovine, swine


  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning


    A paired comparison of 60 farm families was employed (30 using sustainable systems and 30 using conventional systems) to determine why some families opt for sustainable practices, and their neighbors who resemble them in many ways do not. Although not a random sample the two groups do not diverge significantly along the dimensions usually expected to account for farming-system contrasts: age, education level, off-farm employment, farm size, soils or a representative field=s productivity. The paired groups, however, are distinctive socially. A whole-farm design was used that included the entire farm household. This approach brought to light factors other than profitability that effect whether sustainable farming systems are adopted, and whether once adopted persist through a transfer of management from one generation to the next. Families using sustainable farming systems had an environmental or health event linked to adoption, have traditions of environmentalism, systematically do on-farm experimentation and are generally prudent about resources in homes as well as in farming. Tractors are older, for example, and homes lack central air conditioning among the sustainable group. Findings indicate that rather than making a deep philosophical paradigm shift to environmentally sensitive farming (although not excluding it), sustainable families are characterized by a predisposition to use resources prudently in every dimension of their lives. Adoption of sustainable systems is therefore as much as for efficiency and financial motives as it is for environmental factors. Families farming conventionally, but sharing more characteristics identified with sustainable families, potentially are those best targeted for educational programs. Socially-sustainable situations (maintained through an intergenerational transfer) have long-term implications for whether adoption of sustainable-farming systems persists. Social sustainability in the long-term may rank as importantly for educators as achieving an initial shift from conventional systems.

    Project objectives:

    1. Determine the family and enterprise preconditions or barriers to adopting sustainable farm systems.

    2. Identify and assess the environmental and economic consequences for the rural community of families farming with sustainable versus conventional systems.

    3. Develop an innovative educational program that identifies the real-life costs and benefits to families using sustainable versus conventional farming methods.

    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.