An accelerating treadmill and an overlooked contradiction in industrial agriculture: Climate change and nitrogen fertilizer

Matthew Houser, Diana Stuart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations

Abstract

In this article, we explore if and why farmers are responding to the impacts of climate change with practices that increase greenhouse gas emissions. Our examination focuses on heavy rainfall events and Midwestern corn farmers' nitrogen fertilizer management. Due to climate change, the frequency and intensity of heavy rain events is increasing across the Midwest. These events increase nitrogen loss to the environment and introduces economic risks to farmers. Drawing from a theoretical framework that merges O'Connor's second contradiction of capitalism and Schnaiberg's treadmill of production, we argue farmers' responses to these events reflect the second contradiction, increasing contributions to climate change, and are shaped by treadmill-like political-economic pressures. We examine this using a qualitative sample of 154 farmers across Indiana, Iowa, and Michigan. Given profit imperatives, adapting farmers in our sample primarily used increased nitrogen application rates to reduce their vulnerability to heavy rains. As nitrogen rate is directly associated with nitrous oxide emissions, this adaptive strategy is effective but increases agricultural contributions to climate change. This preliminarily suggests that the political-economic structure encourages farmers to respond to climate change in ways that accelerate the environmental contradictions of industrial agriculture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)215-237
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Agrarian Change
Volume20
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020

Keywords

  • adaptation
  • agriculture
  • climate change
  • maladaptation
  • nitrogen
  • political economy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics of 'An accelerating treadmill and an overlooked contradiction in industrial agriculture: Climate change and nitrogen fertilizer'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this