a1 Department of Agricultural, Economics and Rural Sociology, Auburn University, Auburn, AL 36849-5406, USA.
Conventional agriculture systems of production often lead to environmental degradation, economic problems and even social conflict. The efficacy of agriculture systems conducive to the economic, environmental and social sustainability of farming operations has been demonstrated, yet the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices is not widespread. This qualitative study is based on a web-based survey instrument designed to elicit the barriers to adoption of sustainable agriculture practices (SAP) perceived by a positional and network sample of 269 change agents working with farmers in the US South. The analysis examines the general proposition that reluctance to change to SAP is an overused rationale of change agents that tends to mask real barriers that we endeavor to elicit in the survey. It was found that despite having support from technical assistance providers, farmers are rarely adopting SAP. Change agents often are not well prepared to attend to farmers' needs regarding SAP, particularly the needs of specific farming situations. Thus, farmers often struggle to obtain accurate information about the benefits of SAP. Government support programs often fail to encourage adoption due to lack of funding, inappropriate design and ineffective targeting of incentives. Reluctance to change is frequently mentioned by change agents, but more as a way of blaming farmers for nonadoption than explaining the often tangible reasons for their behaviors. Social barriers, land tenure, infrastructure and incompatibility are other significant impediments to adoption. Strategies such as improved management of the existing information, careful design of economic support programs and extension efforts addressed to change agents themselves could help overcome some of the barriers identified by change agents.
(Accepted August 22 2008)
(Online publication December 08 2008)