Constrained Choice and Climate Change Mitigation in US Agriculture: Structural Barriers to a Climate Change Ethic

Diana Stuart, Rebecca L. Schewe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


This paper examines structural barriers to the adoption of climate change mitigation practices and the evolution of a climate change ethic among American farmers. It examines how seed corn contracts in Michigan constrain the choices of farmers and allow farmers to rationalize the over-application of fertilizer and associated water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Seed corn contracts use a competitive “tournament” system where farmers are rewarded for maximizing yields. Interviews and a focus group were used to understand fertilizer over-application and barriers to participating in a climate change mitigation program. Results indicate that farmers agree that they over-apply fertilizer but would be unlikely to participate in a mitigation program due to their contracts and lack of support from seed corn companies. Because only a few companies control access to the seed corn market, farmers feel they have few choices. Farmers rationalized their practices as their only option given the competitive nature of their contracts and blamed other sources of pollution. Despite increasing efforts to educate farmers about climate change, structural barriers will continue to constrain participation in mitigation efforts and the development of a climate change ethic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)369-385
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016


  • Consolidation
  • Environment
  • Ethics
  • Fertilizer
  • Seed corn

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • History
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • General Environmental Science


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