Quality of Life Effects of Conventional, Transitional, and Sustainable Production Systems of Rural Communities and Family Farms in the Western Corn Belt
The relationship between quality of life influencing farm households for three farming system types in northeast Nebraska were the focus of this study. The three farming systems were identified by a cluster analysis of a statewide survey of cropping practices. After identification of three distinct clusters of cropping practices, the three groups were labeled “conventional,” “transitional,” and “sustainable” (Allen and Bernhardt 1995).
In order to assess the quality of life outcomes associated with the different farming systems and their adjacent communities, three objectives were identified: 1) Analyze the linkages of four whole-farm systems in northeastern Nebraska to surrounding communities; 2) Analyze how these farm systems are perceived to influence local community well-being; and 3) Analyze probable structural impacts of the four systems on farms and rural communities in northeastern Nebraska. Because the assessment of the relationships local farm households have with the surrounding rural community was the objective, this study was carried out in a northeastern Nebraska watershed. Given this objective and associated objectives of the Agriculture in Concert with the Environment (ACE) project, the Lower Platte North Natural Resources District (NRD) was selected.
The study identified trade-offs associated with quality of life, e.g. a farming system could rank high on one or several dimensions of quality of life, but low on others, knowledge which should help farm households and rural communities with planning and priority setting. Two methodologies were used in the study. In-depth qualitative interviews with farm household and local community members will be used to gather information about their concerns regarding local agricultural patterns and their impacts on the rural community. A quantitative survey on quality of life issues related to agriculture and its linkages with the rural community was also used to supplement the qualitative data gathered from the interviews.
Among the major findings were: 1) Farmers saw few differences in farming practices between the farming systems; 2) Each system had different adoptions in mind for the continued viability of their operations; 3) Different norms and quality of life issues pervaded the three farming systems; 4) The significance of the intergenerational and land lease issues in the region; 5) Labor constraints faced by the different systems; and 6) The switch from a nuclear family operation (e.g. husband, wife and children) to father-son or brother partnerships.