Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy




Sociology; Sustainable Agriculture

First Advisor

Lois Wright Morton


Agriculture is a complex human-natural system with intricate and continuous feedback loops that bring the past forward into the present and the future. Like all humans, farmers learn from the past. Intergenerational narratives and experiences with recent past extreme weather events and variable climate patterns frequently become analog years used as benchmarks to build knowledge of the natural environment and guide decisions. However, there is a lack of knowledge about how individuals plan and structure the timescales between decision, action, and outcome. For example, why do some people seem to act on “shorter” timescales without regard for long-term consequences of their actions to themselves, others, or the environment? And why do others make decisions based on “longer” timescales in order to preserve resources for the sake of future use? Although agricultural and climate sciences are continuously advancing our understanding of crop management, fewer investments have been made to understand the crucial human element. There is a need to better understand the timescales of social and cultural factors which influence reception (or rejection) of advances in scientific knowledge. How do time perspectives—the orientation to time and pathways of time—influence interpretation of information and decisions made to implement conservation practices on agricultural lands? What are the disjunctures between how humans perceive and reference long-term timescales of changing climatic conditions and short-term timescales of annual crop production?

This dissertation seeks to expand understanding of farmer decision-making as it relates to timescales, climate change, corn-based cropping systems, and advances in science for agricultural decision support. First a temporal reference framework is developed to explain the processes by which past experiences and intergenerational narratives are brought forward in time to inform current agricultural management decisions. Then, this theory is elaborated and empirically tested in Chapters 4 and 5. A purposeful sample of interviews with corn farmers (N=159) and climatologists (N=22) in nine upper Midwest states (Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, South Dakota, and Illinois) and a random sample farmer survey (N=1,159) from the 2015 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll provide data for these analyses. Chapter 4 conducts binary logistic regression on the survey of Iowa farmers to evaluate the influence of previous generations and social pressures on decisions to decrease fall tillage, increase no tillage, and increase the use of cover crops on their farm. Family-level norms and pressures are shown to reinforce traditional crop production practices such as the action of post-harvest soil tillage. Chapter 5 explores the weight that farmers and climatologists give to historical experiences in interpreting climate conditions and their effects on production systems by analyzing in-person farmer interview data. Inductive reasoning is utilized to detect common themes involving temporal orientations and temporal pathways that influence agricultural decision-making.

Findings suggest that farmers are influenced by historical intergenerational narratives of family farm management practices. Higher weights are often placed upon personally experienced past events and narratives of analogous historical conditions than predictions or expectations of future environmental conditions. Farmers are more likely to consider decisions relative to a past time orientation which reinforces pathways of time as socially-referenced to cyclical intergenerational events. This may result in farmers perceiving environmental conditions as maintaining stability through reoccurrence of environmental weather and climate risks. This suggests that scientific information describing early warning signals of future climate disruptions and opportunities for agricultural management adaption may not be resonating with the farming population.

This research offers a contribution to further understand the role of timescales—temporal perspectives, orientations, and pathways—associated with decisions about agricultural production and climate. Implications of these findings may be helpful for scientists, educators, and other agricultural stakeholders who seek to connect advances in climate science with opportunities for agricultural adaptation. Recommendations involve building the capacity of information facilitators, or individuals skilled in communicating and framing science in messaging which resonates to intergenerational narratives of farm and soil conservation. Scientists should find ways to involve farmers in the co-production of knowledge to increase understanding of timescale perspectives in the interpretation of scientific knowledge. As agriculture adapts to changing climate and environmental conditions, decision-makers may need to continually assess and reconsider the trajectory of predominant corn-based cropping management.


Copyright Owner

Adam Wilke



File Format


File Size

153 pages