About This Project
Wheat is a staple food and the world's 3rd largest crop. In USA, it is mostly grown in the Midwest. Here, wheat farmers encounter significant social, economic and environmental challenges. My research aims to understand their ability to sustain in light of such challenges. To do this, I will visit wheat farms in the Midwest and assess their sustainability performance. The importance of this research is captured in Harald Lemke’s words: “Food means to constitute the world--to shape the world."
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What is the context of this research?
Wheat production in the USA constitutes 20 million hectares (ha) and an average yield of 3.5 tons/ha in 2016. Worldwide, they are the fourth largest producer of wheat. At the forefront of USA's production are the farmers in the Midwest. In this region, land, policy and technology converge in a resource demanding feat that produces 54% of the nation’s wheat. In doing so, significant trade-offs perpetuate across and within social, economic and environmental dimensions and at varying spatial and temporal scales. I will use a sustainability assessment at the farm level to identify and articulate these relationships. In their careful observance, implications can be drawn for the future of an enterprise, stakeholders, the nation’s security and beyond.
What is the significance of this project?
Wheat production in the Midwest USA is linked to a number of problems. Croplands compete with species’ habitats. Applications of fertilizers and chemicals contaminate surface, ground and coastal waters. Climate change, simplified agrobiodiversity and aquifer overdrafts challenge the stability of yields. Policy favors fewer and larger farms, placing pressure on rural communities’ social and economic welfare.
Too often, these issues are analyzed independently from one another. This may lead to an incomplete understanding. A sustainability assessment addresses this problem by offering a comprehensive look at the farm's performance in light of its challenges. Results have direct implications for our present and future well-being.
What are the goals of the project?
The project aims to determine the sustainability performance of typical wheat producing farms in the Midwest USA. By doing so, it will contribute to a common understanding of measuring sustainability in food and agricultural systems.
To achieve this, I will first conduct a literature review to identify, collect and summarize known and relevant issues surrounding present-day wheat production in the Midwest. Next, I will select and visit 20-25 farms in North and South Dakota, Kansas, Minnesota and Nebraska. At each farm I will assess their sustainability using a comprehensive framework (SAFA) and application tool (SMART). This tool considers 327 indicators across governance, environmental, economic and social dimensions. I will also tour the farm and interview the farmer.
The budget is categorized into three working phases:
(1) The first phase involves my training in administering sustainability assessments on farm enterprises. Training costs are covered by the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL). Six days of training will take place in Switzerland. I am responsible for costs of travel and accommodation.
(2) The second phase is the heart of my research and comprises the majority of costs. Here, I will visit 20-25 farms in the Midwest USA and assess their sustainability. Each assessment takes one to two days. Factoring in travel times between farms, I estimate the research to last 60 days. Costs include airfare between USA and Germany, travel insurance, a rental car, fuel, accommodation and food. When possible, I will use a tent; this explains my low accommodation costs.
(3) In the last working phase, I will present my final work to my associated research institute, FiBL, in Switzerland. Again, costs are travel and accommodation.
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