Multifunctional agriculture produces both goods (like food and fiber) and ecological services (like clean water). This kind of agriculture is attracting considerable interest because it addresses social and ecological challenges to sustainability.
The MFA project examines why farmers choose multifunctional agriculture. We are particularly interested in the role of social networks and environmental perception.
We talk to farmers in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and New York and assessing the biophysical effects of farming. We use a range of approaches, including digital mapping and remote sensing, biophysical research on terrestrial and aquatic systems at farm and landscape scales; social science interviews and structural equation modeling for farmer and network actors; and integrated modeling.
Education and outreach for a variety of audiences include working with grazing organizations to share the empirical results in a wide range of settings including conferences and strategic planning sessions.
Better understanding of dynamics of multifunctionality is important to society in several ways. This research proposes a new model of feedback among social and ecological systems that could be applied not just to agriculture but also to many different kinds of productive systems that involve humans and the environment. In terms of practical outcomes, this project will help lower barriers to the expansion of grazing, which offers considerable potential for rural economic revitalization in many US regions, while also helping make the increasingly important US ‘bioeconomy’ more sustainable. The proposed research will help identify both opportunities and barriers affecting development of a sustainable bioeconomy based on multifunctional agriculture. Finally, the project helps a variety of different people learn about multifunctional agriculture in particular and human-environment interactions more broadly.