Our food system faces increasing challenges from environmental change, including climate change, increasing extreme events, and policies and regulations that aim to combat these challenges.  Meredith's and her students' work explores these challenges and opportunities across the food system, working with farmers on production through to dietary shifts and food waste behaviors to minimize environmental impacts.

Developing Resources for Farmers' Climate Adaptation Needs

This project is exploring farmer's challenges with climate change and the resources and tools they need to assist with climate change adaptation.  The project will develop tools and resources with farmers through focus groups and disseminate them through a series of workshops.  The USDA funded project is working with small, medium and beginning farmers and ranchers in Vermont and Maine, and share resources more broadly throughout New England. 

Research brief:  What do Northern New England Farmers Need to Adapt to Climate Change?  A comparison of farmer and agricultural advisor perspectives and needs.

California Farmers and the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act

In 2014, the California legislature passed and the Governor signed the California Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which requires that local agencies establish governance structures known as Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs), tasked with developing plans to achieve groundwater sustainability by 2020.


This project is working in Fresno, Madera, San Luis Obispo, and Yolo Counties, California.  The project is working with the California Farm Bureau Federation and the local County farm bureaus in each county.  In Yolo County, the project is also a collaboration with a multidisciplinary group of scientists  (groundwater hydrologists, agricultural scientists and social scientists) from Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), ERA Economics, and University of Vermont.  The project is exploring how farmers perceive water changes in recent years, preferred strategies for water management, and perspectives on SGMA implementation. Complementary work from SEI and ERA Economics is developing models with groundwater and economic components to assess how varying management strategies may influence the balance of groundwater and economic sustainability.

Double line surface drip irrigation in an almond orchard in Yolo County, Ca.  Photo Credit: Phil Hogan, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Woodland, CA.

In October 2016, we conducted farmer focus groups in Yolo County, California to explore farmer perspectives on SGMA and water management.  This research brief highlights the results:

Research Brief: Farmer Perspectives of California Water Management and the Implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act

The focus group research was summarized in an article in a special issue of California Agriculture focused on the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

In 2018, the survey and project was expanded to Fresno, Madera, and San Luis Obispo Counties with funding from The Water Foundation.  The results from all four counties are found in research briefs.

Climate Change and Food Systems

Food systems- including how we produce, process, transport, distribute, and consume food- may be significantly affected by climate change.  Opportunities to both mitigate emissions and adapt to climate change impacts exist across the food system.  Meredith was the lead author on a report exploring these opportunities and impacts in collaboration with The Meridian Institute.  The report, and an accompanying peer-reviewed review article, detail the best opportunities for food system changes to combat and adapt to climate change.  Given the existing literature on agricultural opportunities, the report focuses primarily on opportunities in food processing, transportation, dietary shifts, and food loss and waste.

Dairy Farmers and Decision-making

Manure is an important part of a dairy farm- it serves as a vital resource for crop production and can even be used as an energy source with the right technology.  Dairy farmers manage manure in their systems and make decisions daily about how to operate their farms.  This project aims to better understand how farmers make decisions about new technologies and practices and what barriers farmers face when adopting strategies to suit their farms.  Working with dairy farmers and the dairy industry the project will identify key factors that affect farmer decision-making, resources and technical assistance that could better assist farmers with technology adoption and what resources could best help them achieve their goals.

Two papers have resulted from this work:

1. )Tradeoffs in US dairy manure greenhouse gas emissions, productivity, climate, and manure management strategies

2.) A review of determinants for dairy farmer decision making on manure management strategies in high-income countries

In addition to this project, Meredith previously wrote a case study with Harvard Business School in collaboration with Dr. Ray Goldberg and Nestle on their Dairy Farming Institute in China and its unique business collaboration model found here.

Dairy cows at the Nestle Dairy Farming Institute in China, a new teaching and learning center for Chinese farmers and dairy industry professionals.  Photo Credit: M. Niles
Hurricanes, Islands and Agricultural Resiliency

This project is led by Luis Alexis Rodriguez Cruz, a PhD candidate in The Lab.  2017’s hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico’s agricultural sector, with a reported $245 million in agricultural production losses, and $1.8 billion in agricultural infrastructure damage. Hurricanes are one of many challenges Puerto Rican farmers are facing due to climate change, and other socioeconomic factors. More broadly, island countries and territories are known for their specific vulnerabilities in this changing climate such as land loss, sea-water intrusion, food insecurity, and isolation. Hence, the importance of understanding farmers’ experiences with these events, and how their perceptions and psychological distance of climate change impact adaptation behaviors. This project aims to contribute to an emerging body of work addressing climate change adaptation and agricultural resiliency in island food systems.

A livestock field in Juana Díaz, Puerto Rico. Photo Credit: Luis Rodríguez-Cruz

Research was carried out in collaboration with the Extension Service of the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, who surveyed 405 farmers across Puerto Rico to understand the obstacles they faced towards recovery after Hurricane Maria, their perceptions on climate change, food insecurity and policy. and to better comprehend their farm systems, socioeconomic conditions, and their actual and intended agricultural practices. This project intends to work with these farmers over time to understand how climate change perceptions and adaptation behaviors vary. Moreover, this research has global implications on island food systems, specially in the Caribbean. 


Research brief:  Hurricane Maria's Impact to Puerto Rican Farmers.  In English and here in Spanish.


Integrated Crop and Livestock Systems

Meredith is part of a growing international group of researchers exploring integrated crop and livestock systems around the world.  Her particular interest is on farmer's adoption of integrated crop and livestock systems, perceived benefits and challenges of the systems, and the policies that can hinder or drive adoption of such practices.

Meredith's system of expertise is in New Zealand, where she is investigating the integration of sheep into vineyard systems. Her recently published work found that sheep integration created both ecological benefits through reduced mowing and herbicide use as well as economic benefits to farmers for input and labor savings.

Additional information on our international group can be found here.