Developing decision support for organic farmers: Lowering barriers, clarifying trade-offs and linking EWM strategy performance to farmers’ values
Managing weeds is often cited as the most problematic management challenge in organic agriculture, and a key reason why conventional farmers choose not to transition to an organic production system. Our past research indicates that organic farmers face an uphill battle when trying to make the complex value-based tradeoffs required when predicting how diverse suites of ecological weed management strategies perform over time. Due to the inherent complexity and uncertainty in the agroecosystem as well as the decision process (e.g., balancing short-term profit-based objectives against long-term sustainability-based objectives), farmers commonly rely more on past experience and simplifying heuristics, or mental short-cuts, than an objective deliberation of scientific facts and figures. Organic farmers might thus benefit from a set of tools helping them to use the best available knowledge more deliberately when making weed management decisions. As such, we are building a software-based, structured decision-support framework (DSF) that incorporates tenets of value-focused thinking—recognizing and articulating people’s objectives before identifying alternatives—to present the predicted impacts of weed management strategies across diverse objectives, such as profitability, time and money spent weeding, and soil health, and values like quality of life and social impact.
We are currently engaged in an extensive advisory process in which organic farmers are helping us to evaluate and revise the logic, measures, practices and values included in the DSF. Future activities include conducting decision quality experiments to test the DSF’s effectiveness. Our expectations are that such a DSF will resolve a great deal of farmer uncertainty, lower barriers to experimentation with diverse management strategies on individual farms, and result in superior outcomes for organic farmers, their families, and society.
On the following pages, we’ve provided screenshots of key elements of the DSF. If you have questions, comments or concerns, or would like to participate in our advisory process, please contact Doug Bessette at Bessette.firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-649-9226.