Social Science


Beef cattle production systems in the southern Great Plains function within a socioeconomic context, which includes larger structural trends (e.g., demographic change, economic concentration, the globalization of production and consumption), as well as regional and local factors (e.g., local institutions, household-level decisions). These factors, both macro and micro, interact in various ways that impact and shape agricultural production in the region. Put another way, the biophysical and socioeconomic systems of the region are in a constant process of interaction in which they are mutually shaped over time (Middendorf et al. 2008).


Socioeconomic factors can be a source of both vulnerability and resilience in an integrated (biophysical – social) system. For example, declining population and the loss of key social institutions can introduce vulnerability into the production system, in terms of its long-term viability. At a more micro level, producer knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors can become vulnerabilities if they present barriers to the implementation of practices designed to mitigate the impacts of climate variability. Socioeconomic factors can also contribute to system resilience. Social capital, community solidarity, and institutional support (e.g., Extension) can all be resources that help households, communities, and production systems be more resilient to traumatic events, be they biophysical (extreme climate variability) or social (loss of local institutions).


The goal of this component of the project is to develop a better understanding of the social factors that contribute to system vulnerability and resilience. The knowledge produced has informed the development of capacity building materials, including adaptation and mitigation management practices and other decision support tools that assist and empower producers and other stakeholders in the region to employ risk- and evidence- based information in their decision-making.


The Social Science group has conducted a literature review on the social dimensions of climate change in agriculture, particularly research related to surveys of Extension and producers on perceptions of and attitudes toward climate change. The team then developed, administered, and analyzed data resulting from surveys of both extension professionals and producers in the region to determine knowledge and attitudes about climate variability that informed the development of capacity building materials, including adaptation and mitigation management practices and other decision support tools that will assist and empower producers and other stakeholders in the region to employ risk- and evidence- based information in their decision-making. Abstracts and links to selected publications are provided below.


Climate Change Challenges for Extension Educators: Technical Capacity and Cultural Attitudes

Terrie Becerra, Gerad Middendorf, Amber Campbell, Peter Tomlinson


We surveyed Extension educators in the southern Great Plains about their attitudes and beliefs regarding climate change, their interactions with constituents surrounding climate change, and challenges they face in engaging constituents on the topic of climate change. Production-oriented and sociocultural challenges in meeting constituents' information needs exist. Educators reported (a) lacking capacity for addressing climate change issues and (b) needing information, especially regarding drought and extreme or unseasonable weather events and related management practices. Educators also identified a need for more educational resources, including print materials and online decision aids. Implications are relevant to educators working beyond the study area and in any agricultural production system.


Flexibility to Cope: Producers Perceptions of Uncertainty and Adaptive Strategies to Maintain Resilience

Amber Campbell, Audrey King, Terrie Becerra, Barbara Brown, Gerad Middendorf, Peter Tomlinson


The beef cattle industry is significantly impacted by environmental variability which is increasing in the Great Plains. Producers will have to be more flexible to maintain resiliency in the face of uncertainty. The majority of producers in a 2016 survey of beef cattle industry professionals in the Southern Great Plains (Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas) expressed support for efforts to adapt to climate variability regardless of their causal beliefs about climate change. In-depth interviews with cattle producers in the SGP indicated producers are investigating and implementing options that give them greater flexibility in response to uncertainty in future conditions such as grazing alternative forages and diversifying crop systems. Given favorable attitudes towards adaptation efforts, focusing on a message of adapting to climate variability may be a way to engage those who would otherwise be disinclined to participate in climate change adaptation programming and still achieve increased resilience to projected climate change impacts.