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Tweak, Adapt, or Transform: Policy Scenarios in Response to Emerging Bioenergy Markets in the U.S. Corn Belt

Ryan C Atwell, Iowa State University, Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management
Lisa A Schulte, Iowa State University, Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management
Lynne M Westphal, U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station

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Abstract

Emerging bioenergy markets portend both boon and bane for regions of intensive agricultural production worldwide. To understand and guide the effects of bioenergy markets on agricultural landscapes, communities, and economies, we engaged leaders in the Corn Belt state of Iowa in a participatory workshop and follow-up interviews to develop future policy scenarios. Analysis of workshop and interview data, in conjunction with the results of regional social and ecological research, was used to develop a heuristic model outlining interactions between key drivers and outcomes of regional landscape change. Three policy scenarios were built on this framework and included the following approaches: tweak, adapt, and transform. Our results suggest that if macroscale markets, technologies, and federal farm policies are allowed to be the overriding drivers of farm owner and operator decision making, Iowa’s agricultural landscapes will likely become highly efficient at row crop production at the cost of other desired outcomes. However, the perspectives of Iowa leaders demonstrate how multifunctional agricultural landscapes can be achieved through a concerted portfolio of change coordinated across local, regional, and national scales.

Key words

agriculture; complexity; ecosystem services; Iowa; participatory; perennials; resilience; scale; social-ecological systems
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087