Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


The sustainability of modern agricultural systems is increasingly questioned due to evidence of environmental and economic problems. While some people propose solutions within conventional production systems, others suggest that there is a need to completely modify production systems based on ecological principles. The basic principles and differences between the two production systems have been well specified at a conceptual level, but less is known about the differences in production practices, social and structural organisation, and decision-making processes leading to the use of particular methods at an operational level. In this thesis thirty ecological and thirty conventional farmers in Southwestern Ontario were interviewed in order to determine the social and structural characteristics of their operation, their specific production methods in the Southwestern Ontario context, and the factors that contribute to decision making leading to their choice of production methods. In particular the relative roles of structure and agency with respect to decision making were explored. It was found that attitudes were the key to determining production practice choice for ecological farmers. Although ecological and conventional operations differ significantly in their structural characteristics, those who converted to ecological agriculture often converted operations that are originally similar in structure to existing conventional enterprises. The differences in structure appeared to arise after the decision to convert had been made. However, for conventional farmers structure played a more important role in decision-making. Thus, if ecological agriculture is to become a significant sector of agricultural production in Southwestern Ontario there would have to be a widespread shift in farmer attitudes which at this point appears unlikely.



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