This paper addresses the ways in which farmers' social roles reveal complex and contradictory beliefs and attitudes about conservation. Drawing on qualitative data from Iowa corn and soybean farmers, local government officials, and conservation agencies, analysis of 28 listening sessions finds an overriding tension between two conflicting components of farmer roles: farmers as stewards or custodians of the land and farmers as shrewd businessmen needing to make annual profits from their land. While it is possible that stewardship and sustainable business actions could exist in an integrated fashion, the reality is that for most Iowa farmers, long-term care for the environmental health of the land is subservient to making short-term profits, even as farmers publicly claim the importance of stewardship. The discursive constructs of steward and businessman represent competing moral imperatives; the juxtaposition of these imperatives leads to a coexistence of conflicting views of the moral good and becomes a barrier to the adoption of conservation farming methods. In order to partially resolve this tension, farmers draw on a third social role with more positive moral overtones: the farmer as hero feeding the world.

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