Drought tolerant seed use in the Eastern Corn Belt: Using seed dealer interviews to understand the lack of adoption
Thursday, August 5, 2021
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Victoria M. Seest, Geography/International Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN and Matthew K. Houser, Environmental Resilience Institute, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN
Victoria M. Seest
Geography/International Studies, Indiana University Bloomington, IN, USA
Background/Question/Methods Between 2003-2013, United States’ agricultural losses caused by droughts averaged approximately $4 billion a year (Wallander et al. 2013). And, due to climate change, droughts conditions are predicted to accelerate in the future. Specifically in the Midwest, rising temperatures and more prolonged dry periods will precipitate more frequent and severe agricultural droughts (ie., soil moisture deficits; Wehner et al, 2017; Liang et al, 2017; Jin et al, 2018). In the Eastern Midwest states, like Indiana, predicted increases in drought conditions changes could cause a 16-20% decline in corn yields (Bowling et al., 2018). But the Midwest agricultural system can adapt and prepare for these challenges. One widely available adaptation strategy would be to increase the use of drought tolerant seed varieties (Frontiers 2016). However, only 22% of corn farmers utilized any form of drought tolerant seed or preventative practice across the United States (USDA, 2016). In this study, we offer introductory insight into why this adaptation strategy is not being more widely utilized by farmers, drawing on semi-structured qualitative interviews with a sample of 5 Seed Dealers (individuals who market and distribute seeds to local farmers) located in Central Indiana. Results/Conclusions Broadly, reflecting the above cited USDA figure, seed dealers reported that drought tolerant seeds were not marketed to or demanded by local farmers to combat drought induced by climate change. Thematic analysis suggested a variety of reasons for their limited use including: limited focus on the development of drought tolerant varieties for eastern markets at the level of the seed company; seed dealers’ lack of desire to “sell” drought tolerant seeds to local farmers due to several perceived drawbacks; and low innate demand among the farmers themselves, as reported by dealers. In general, drought and drought tolerant seeds were seen as a Western corn belt issue and need by interviewees and they reported that their client felt drought presented only minimal, sporadic risks and that other adaptation responses, such as increased irrigation use, were more effective and cost efficient. Though the accelerating impact of droughts and other climate extremes may promote changing practices and attitudes in the future, at least at this time our results suggest that seed companies, dealers and farmers do not widely perceive droughts as major or imminent risks, nor are they interested in more widely developing, selling or planting drought tolerant seeds to mitigate potential risks.