A small, but unquantified minority of South Dakota farmers follow practices intended to be not only productive and profitable, but also explicitly benign to environment and human health. For purpose of discussion, such farmers are termed as “sustainable.” This article documents experiences and points
of view of 32 farmers who have followed sustainable practices commercially for an average of 14 yr each and reactions of some “conventional” farmers to the beliefs and practices of their sustainable counterparts. The findings reported in the article are based on a four-part series of on-farm investigations involving (i) a broadly-based mail survey, (ii) personal interviews with a subset of mail survey respondents concerning the nature and rationale for certain key practices identified through the mail survey, (iii) a further intensified case study analysis of a subset of the personally interviewed farmers, and (iv) reactions from panels of sustainable and conventional farmers to preliminary findings from the research. Compared with conventional farmers, sustainable farmers in South Dakota (i) follow more diversified crop rotations, including more nonprogram small grains and forages; (ii) sometimes plant green manure cover crops on otherwise tilled summer fallow/set-aside land; (iii) substitute more harvested legumes, green manures, crop residues, and livestock manure for purchased synthetic chemical fertilizers; and (iv) substitute more crop rotations, mechanical tillage, and other cultural practices for chemical methods of weed control. Perceptions on the technical and economic feasibility of such practices differ much between sustainable and conventional farmers. To provide a basis for the narrowing of such differences of perception over time, the authors provide a list of eight questions for investigation in future research.

Read full article