Producing Compliant Polluters: Seed Companies and Nitrogen Fertilizer Application in U.S. Corn Agriculture

Diana Stuart, Matthew Houser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The majority of research to date has attributed the pollution problems associated with agriculture to the independent decisions of individual farmers; in this article, we illustrate how seed companies' subtle forms of coercion encourage farmers to become compliant polluters. We focus on corn farmers in the midwestern United States, whose management decisions have become increasingly controlled by seed companies. Beyond obvious forms of control, seed companies influence farmers in ways that are less apparent. Drawing from Foucault's concept of disciplinary power, we explore how seed companies have encouraged farmers to increase their application of nitrogen fertilizer through disciplinary mechanisms that naturalize the imposition of constraints. We argue that seed companies employ disciplinary techniques related to the biology of the seed, the product life cycle, and knowledge. While most farmers believe their fertilizer decisions are made independently, these disciplinary techniques compel farmers to increase nitrogen fertilizer application, resulting in increased water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)857-881
Number of pages25
JournalRural Sociology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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