Date of Award:

5-2022

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Environment and Society

Committee Chair(s)

Emily K. Burchfield

Committee

Emily K. Burchfield

Committee

Claudia Radel

Committee

Roslynn Brain McCann

Committee

Matt Yost

Committee

Douglas Jackson-Smith

Abstract

The diversity of crops grown in the United States (U.S.) is declining, causing agricultural landscapes to become more and more simplified. This trend is concerning for the loss of important plant, insect, and animal species, as well as the pollution and degradation of our environment. Through three separate but related studies, this dissertation addresses the need to increase the diversity of these agricultural landscapes in the U.S., particularly through diversifying the type and number of crops grown. The first study uses multiple, openly accessible datasets related to agricultural land use and policies to document and visualize change over recent decades. Through this, I show that U.S. agriculture has gradually become more specialized in the crops grown, crop production is heavily concentrated in certain areas, and crop diversity is continuing to decline. Meanwhile, federal agricultural policy, while having become more influential over how U.S. agriculture operates, incentivizes this specialization. The second study uses nonlinear statistical modeling to identify and compare social, political, and ecological factors that best predict crop diversity across nine regions in the U.S. Factors of climate, prior land use, and farm inputs best predict diversity across regions, but regions show key differences in how factors are important, indicating that patterns at the regional scale constrain and enable further diversification. Finally, the third study relied on interviews with farmers and key informants in southern Idaho’s Magic Valley – a cluster of eight counties that is known to be agriculturally diverse. Interviews gauge what farmers are currently doing to manage crop diversity (the present) and how they imagine alternative landscapes (the imaginary). We found that farmers in the Magic Valley manage current diversity mainly through cover cropping and diverse crop rotations, but daily struggles and political barriers make experimenting with and imagining alternative landscapes difficult and unlikely to occur. Together, these three studies provide an integrated view of how and why U.S. agriculture landscapes simplify or diversify, as well as the barriers and bridges such pathways of diversification.

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