Zero tillage and organic farming in Saskatchewan : an interdisciplinary study of the development of sustainable agriculture
Beckie, Mary Anne
The purpose of this research was to investigate how sustainable agriculture is being conceptualized and implemented in Saskatchewan. Zero tillage, organic farming, and the discourses surrounding them were examined as theoretical and practical responses to sustainable agriculture. Characteristics of 33 organic and 33 zero tillage farming systems located throughout the soil climatic zones of southern Saskatchewan were compared, as well as farmers' perceptions of sustainable agriculture and factors influencing their management decisions. The analysis was extended beyond the local level by examining the links between major socio-political forces shaping agriculture and farmers' perceptions and choices. Central to this analysis is an examination of the role of informal and formal knowledge systems in the development of sustainable agriculture, and how relations of power affect the knowledge that is being produced and ultimately the direction of change in agriculture. Interdisciplinary and exploratory approaches were used to identify and examine a range of emergent issues. The data gathered was analyzed both quantitatively and qualitatively. This study revealed commonalities between zero tillage and organic farmers' basic views on sustainable agriculture, and important differences in the ways these two groups of farmers translated these ideas into practice. Most farmers defined sustainability at the farm-level, focusing on land stewardship and the preservation of the family farm. Farmers adopted zero tillage because of specific environmental, economic and labour advantages, whereas organic farming was adopted for a combination of environmental, health, economic, philosophical/spiritual and labour factors. In general, zero tillage and organic farming systems differed in size, in production and management operations, in land tenure, and in the use of purchased inputs and labour. Zero tillage farms tended to be large, capital-intensive, specialized cropping operations, with a significant proportion of rented land and non-family hired labour. Organic farms were moderate-sized, diversified crop and livestock operations that substituted biological and cultural practices for purchased (agrochemical) inputs, had a high degree of ownership, and relied more upon labour exchange. These characteristics create distinct environmental, economic and social advantages and disadvantages. Zero tillage, compatible with the dominant agricultural paradigm and the industrial model, continues to be promoted by agricultural institutions and agribusiness as the best solution to farm-level sustainability. Interest in organic agriculture and the alternative agricultural paradigm is increasing, however, due to the current crisis in the farm economy and changes in consumers' perceptions and choices.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
CommitteeAnderson, Darwin W.
Copyright DateSeptember 2000
farming - socio-economic factors
Saskatchewan - agriculture