Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 131–147 | Cite as

Beyond polarization: using Q methodology to explore stakeholders’ views on pesticide use, and related risks for agricultural workers, in Washington State’s tree fruit industry



Controversies in food and agriculture abound, with many portrayed as conflicts between polarized viewpoints. Framing such controversies as dichotomies, however, can at times obscure what might be a plurality of views and potential common ground on the subject. We used Q methodology to explore stakeholders’ views about pesticide safety, agricultural worker exposure, and human health concerns in the tree fruit industry of central Washington State. Using a purposive sample of English and Spanish-speaking agricultural workers, industry representatives, state agencies, educators, and advocates (n = 41), participants sorted 45 statements on pesticide use and perceived human safety risks in the tree fruit industry in 2011. We used PQMethod 2.33 statistical software program to identify viewpoints, based on differences between how participants sorted the statements. The results revealed three distinct viewpoints among 38 sorters that explained 52 percent of the variance. The viewpoints included the: (1) skeptics (n = 22) who expressed concern over the environmental and human health impacts of pesticide use; (2) acceptors (n = 10) who acknowledged inherent risks for using pesticides but saw the risks as known, small and manageable; and (3) incrementalists (n = 6) who prioritized opportunities to introduce human capital and technological improvements to increase agricultural worker safety. We then brought representatives with these different viewpoints together to analyze the results of the Q study, and to brainstorm mutually acceptable improvements to health and safety in tree fruit orchards. In describing and analyzing this case study, we argue that Q methodology can serve as one potentially effective tool for collaborative work, in this case facilitating a process of orchard safety improvements despite perceived stakeholder polarization.


Q methodology Pesticide safety Polarization Stakeholders 



Thanks go to Maureen Gullen for assistance in data analysis and representation for this study, to Diane Montgomery for assistance in identifying the most appropriate factor solution, to Jerry Shannon, Diane Montgomery, and Alice Julier for comments on an earlier draft of this paper, to four anonymous reviewers for invaluable feedback, and to the pesticide safety stakeholder working group for comments on the pesticide Q study results and analysis. This study was funded by CDC/NIOSH Award 5 U54 OH007544 to the University of Washington Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center (with subcontract to Washington State University).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Food Studies, Falk School of Sustainability and the EnvironmentChatham UniversityGibsoniaUSA
  2. 2.Department of GeographyUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA

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