Old Habits Die Hard for Wheat Growers

U.S. wheat growers resist converting to a more profitable method of farming because of ideology – their personal beliefs about organic farming – rather than technical or material challenges, according to a new study co-authored by Jeff Murray and a team of international colleagues.

Jeff Murray

Jeff Murray

Organic wheat production over the past 30 years has consistently yielded higher profits for producers compared to conventional wheat farming methods that rely on chemical pesticides, herbicides and synthetic or chemical fertilizers. Organic farming relies on crop rotation, animal and plant-based fertilizer and other biological-based processes for pest control. And the higher profit margin for organic wheat farmers is without the government subsidies on which conventional wheat farmers rely.

The team found that a producer’s beliefs or opinions about what is the right way to farm might not match the most efficient or lucrative method of production.

“Across our data, we found expressions of ideological tensions embedded in the different strategic orientations to agriculture,” Murray said. “One would think that obstacles to the expansion to organic commodity production are mostly technological or material, but instead it’s the intensity of these ideological tensions that impedes the transition to a more economically strategic orientation. And likely, until these tensions subside, the transition will remain in a stage of crisis.”

The findings show that individuals may be less committed to the most efficient or most economical way of doing business, and more committed to cultural or cognitive forces.

“When approaching strategic change, managers might have greater success if they recognize that potentially conflicting ideologies are in play,” Murray said.

 

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