Landscape Performance: Farmer Interactions across Spatial Scales

John Strauser, William P. Stewart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Agricultural lands in the north-central United States represent some of the most uniform and non-sustainable landscapes in human history. The conformity in land-use practices reflects a broad social agreement, albeit unspoken, of having an influence on agricultural practices and is referred to as a normative landscape. Implementing conservation agricultural practices requires engaging such social agreements in ways that question and disrupt them. By using a mixed methods approach to support the application of the influence of a normative landscape, this study examines two research questions: (1) How do regionally normative landscapes influence site-based farming practices? And (2) To what extent do aspects (i.e., crop areas, buffer areas, and living areas) of individual farms contribute to the development of those regionally normative landscape meanings? When examining the first research question, an analysis of 21 interviews with farmers in Wisconsin and Illinois’ Driftless Region revealed two recurrent themes: “road farming” was a common way in which farmers communicated with each other about farm practices, and land-based learning events were opportunities to foster dialogue about farming activities that shape normative ideals. The results from the thematic analysis connect site-based farming practices within a broader regional context. A quantitative analysis of a survey of 82 farmers in the same region indicates that social agreement to evaluate the farming practices of others is strongest for crop areas. Our findings suggest that farmers and professionals wanting to improve conservation outcomes should use local events that reflect sustainable practices to disrupt and re-envision regional norms to spread conservation farming practices.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number13663
Issue number18
StatePublished - Sep 2023


  • agricultural decision-making
  • good farming
  • place-making
  • regional planning


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