Multistakeholder initiatives and their prospects for sustainability: the farmer perspective

Michaela Hoffelmeyer, David Conner, Johann Strube, Maki Hatanaka, Jason Konefal, Leland Glenna

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


To promote sustainability, multistakeholder initiatives (MSIs) are an emerging form of private governance that brings together diverse stakeholders across the agrifood system to advance sustainable agriculture practices. Previous research on MSIs focuses on the organization and structure of various MSIs through coordinator and management perspectives. In this paper, we examine farmers’ experiences of participating in a leading MSI metrics program for U.S. agriculture, Field to Market. Through survey and interview methodology, this paper examines farmers’ motivations, perceived benefits and power dynamics within Field to Market’s metrics program. We find that although being open to sharing sustainability metrics with buyers, farmers struggled to gain tangible benefits. The majority of farmers considered themselves ‘already sustainable’ in that they made economically efficient farming decisions. As such, participating in Field to Market resulted in little to no changes in farming practices. Because MSI metrics programs work to assist farmers in becoming aware of inefficiencies and encourage changes, the lack of utilizing data generated from the sustainability metrics highlights a significant shortfall of this MSI metrics program. Farmers also perceived buyers as the primary beneficiaries of sustainability metrics since the buyers could now make claims about the sustainability of their products. Additionally, our findings provide nuance related to economic benefits as farmers broadly conceptualized the primary economic benefits as continuing a relationship with buyers who were now asking farmers to join the metrics program and report data. Although the metrics program appears ‘voluntary,’ farmers perceived few other options when asked to report data since sharing data became an apparent baseline for doing business. This paper contributes an understanding of farmers’ experiences of engaging with an MSI metrics program, which helps to illuminate the potential implications of these newly emerging approaches to promoting sustainability. Our findings demonstrate that proponents of this newly emerging approach to promoting sustainability may want to consider the distribution of benefits and the power dynamics embedded in these programs since these programs may carry unintended consequences as they are scaled up. Finally, we posit several additional avenues for future research to further elucidate the potential social implications of MSI metrics programs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)399-407
Number of pages9
JournalRenewable Agriculture and Food Systems
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Food Science
  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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