Cover of Farmer's Decision
Table of Contents

The Farmer's Decision: Balancing Economic Successsful Agriculture Production with Environmental Quality
Edited by Jerry L. Hatfield
251 pages, softbound
ISBN 0-9769432-1-2

The Farmer’s Decision is a resource for the decision-making process that goes into balancing economic success with a healthy environment. This book is a synthesis of years of interdisciplinary research and practice, and addresses the recent increasing development—applying decision support tools to agriculture. The discussions represent an international view and are a blend of field and watershed-scale observations and research.

This book is divided into three parts: (1) shaping farmer’s decisions, (2) application to water and nutrient management, and (3) different perspectives.

Table of Contents

Jerry L. Hatfield


Overview of Various Global Environmental Issues
James M. Lynch

New Thinking About Farmer Decision Makers
Robert L. McCown

Getting Technical Information into Watershed Decision-Making
Will Allen and Margaret Kilvington

Weeding out Economic Impacts of Farm Decisions
David W. Archer

 Applying Modeling to Decision Support Tools
Geza J. Kovacs

Responding to Agricultural Impacts with Policy
Oene Oenema


Motivating Farmers to Manage Nutrients Efficiently
Christien J.M. Ondersteijn, Alfons G.J.M. Oude Lansink, Gerard W.J. Giesen, and Ruud B.M. Huirne

Widening Decision Support Systems for Nutrient Management
John F. Angus and Robert L. Williams

Integrating Hydrology into Farmer’s Decisions
Peter F. Quinn, Caspar J.M. Hewett, and Aidan Doyle

Spreading Precision Farming to the Unbelievers
Marcus Tooze


Supporting Commercial Agriculture with “Action Research”
Peter Carberry, Zvi Hochman, and Bob McCown

Managing the Farm from the Producer’s View
Michael McNeill

Equipment Achieves Profitability and Environmental Goals
Nyle C. Wollenhaupt

List of Contributors



Preface: Improving the Balance Between Economic Agricultural Production and Environmental Quality Through Enhanced Decision Making
Jerry L. Hatfield

Decision making to achieve a balance between the economic goals of producers and environmental quality benefits is complex. Most of the time we consider that the balance is skewed to one side or the other and that there are winners and losers. From the production perspective, the loser is the economic return in exchange for environmental quality while from the environmental perspective, the loser is the environment at the expense of agricultural production and increased inputs. In reality, there are opportunities within agriculture for a win-win situation; however, to explore the endless possibilities that constitute acceptable solutions is extremely difficult.

Over the past few years there has been an increasing development of decision support tools that provide a framework that could be applied to agriculture. As I have worked with producers extensively over the past few years, it has become apparent that we could provide more information to the American producer that would help them evaluate ­different scenarios in their farming systems and evaluate potential alternatives through a combination of simulation tools and decision support systems. These are easy concepts to suggest, but more difficult to implement.

As an effort to expand our understanding of the potential of decision support tools for economic and environmental balance, a proposal was made to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in two theme areas. The outcome yielded an international workshop that assembled an international group of experts in decision support systems, simulation models, and agricultural production through industry, consultants, and producers. This group also addressed enhancing environmental quality in agricultural systems.

This group of esteemed scientists and colleagues assembled in Honolulu, Hawaii from November 9-12, 2004 to present their ideas, share their comments, and interact around the theme of understanding the current state of knowledge about decision support tools. The presentations are captured in the following chapters that better capture our understanding than I can portray in this foreword.

The topics range from our current understanding of decision support tools and why they have not had the impact once envisioned, to the use of geographic information systems as methods of displaying information in a visual context. There are applications of models, decision tools for nutrient and hydrologic management, and environmental impacts of nutrient excesses. The insights captured from the agribusiness and the producer/consultant perspective provides a framework for our assessment that begins to show the reality of the complexities in world agriculture.

Throughout these discussions there was a blend between field and watershed scale, and between observational studies and participatory research. There is no correct method of conducting research to achieve improved decision-making, nor is there a correct scale at which these studies and observations need to be collected and analyzed. One of the common themes across all of the topics was the complexity of the system and the need to develop a better understanding of how we quantify and interpret the reactions of physical, biological, and chemical processes that underlie agro-ecologically-based systems.

At the end of the workshop each participant was asked to provide a short summary of their experiences and these provided insights in what we had missed in our discussions, but also where the challenges remain in how we need to impact agriculture. There are a number of different aspects that need to be considered in trying to understand the dynamics of agricultural and ecological systems.

  • There are major changes in how we currently think about decisions, and make decisions, and we need to search for the commonality among different groups. These changing perceptions require a platform that is balanced and methods to resolve conflict if we are to truly achieve a balance between economic and environmental goals. Underlying these themes is the fact that we perceive humans to be selfish with little likelihood they’d change their own behavior, but very likely to suggest changes in everyone else’s behavior. These programs and projects should serve as a springboard to involvement in policymaking, rather than removal from policy discussions.
  • Participatory research and programs require that everyone be engaged in the process, which makes the interdisciplinary approach an imperative; and imagination about potential solutions, a must. There are many facets to social learning and views about decisions, suggesting that participatory approaches may not lead to improved quality of decisions. Participatory research and programs will be strengthened by the incorporation of the hard sciences rather than discarding these process-driven components.
  • One of the major problems in discussing these issues (economic vs. environmental) is finding the common aspects of the problem so everyone can “see” the same problem. On a global scale, problems are very similar and common approaches could be used to address field or watershed scale problems throughout the world. In all of these problems it is critical to identify the target users of this information.
  • There are conflicting views about decision support systems because the element of social learning and engagement in the process of developing decision support tools, varies among researchers and research teams developing these tools. One of the underlying premises of a decision support tool is a model and often models are developed for their own purposes rather than more general usage across a number of application areas.

These synopses of the discussions   provide an introduction into the chapters that follow. There is no correct approach nor is there a standard method for developing, applying, or evaluating decision support tools. We can enhance our ability to help the agricultural community form better linkages with the ecological community through increased discussions about the tradeoffs between economic return and environmental quality. The viewpoints expressed in the following chapters represent a desire by the writers to help science move forward with the goal of being able to impact the lives of fellow scientists, policymakers, planners, producers, and the consumers of food and fiber.

I express a heartfelt thanks to all of the participants and to OECD for their generous support and encouragement to conduct this workshop. The conclusions from the effort can be summarized in a very simple statement, “We have learned a lot and we have a lot to learn, but learn we must, if we are to continue to make this world a better place to live.”

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