By Kim Taylor
Farmers and the burden of change
Over the last four years, I’ve spoken to hundreds of farmers across the country. And whatever the topic, one finding has remained consistent. Farmers feel there is increased pressure to change on many fronts. Even the most progressive, innovative farmer actively embracing change expresses a bit of frustration the burden this presents.
Whether it be a move to more sustainable farming practices or the adoption of new technologies, affecting change in the agricultural sector is a challenge. As a recent article in Behavioral Scientist confirms, strategies for designing effective change are still far too reliant on traditional levers like material incentives, rules and regulations, and information/education. These strategies often don’t work at the scale needed for meaningful change.
We so often talk about behaviour change from the perspective of the party hoping for change. The question is often – how can we get farmers to do adopt x? Well, the first step in encouraging change has got to be understanding the circumstances, viewpoints and pressures of those who we are asking to change.
It can be easy to think of agriculture in aggregate terms – an industry worth $60 Billion a year. But with 89,400 farms, and many being family-owned and run, most of my farm interviews are held at a dining table with a family team, who are often fourth or fifth generation farmers.
And there is a lot for these individuals to be across. There are changes on the farm technology and business management fronts, such as the move to online livestock auctions, increasing availability farm management software and advancements in precision farming such as drones. There are changes in macro pressures such as climate, market prices and trade agreements.
Add to this a need to be on top of industry advancements and regulations that span from food safety and labour laws to water management and tree clearing, and you can see that it is no easy task for farmers to be identifying and adopting all the changes being asked of them.
Supporting farmers in change
So the question needs to be how can we support change in agriculture?
There is a need to help farmers identify the changes that are most relevant and useful to them – do some of the leg work. We need to demonstrate the positive payback of change, and reward and incentivise adoption of changes. We need to leverage and nurture the networks of farmers to help distribute messages and support change. And we need to have empathy and understanding for the people we are talking to.
Positive change in agriculture helps us all
Farmers are facing into a number of challenges on behalf of us all. They are the backbone of an industry that is not only economically important, but is also feeding us and acting as a custodian of a large part of Australian land (Australian agriculture accounts for 55% of Australian land use). So it is essential we start to reframe change, from something we are asking farmers to do, to something we are supporting farmers to do.
Over the last four years we have worked for many clients in the agriculture sector on a diverse array of topics – from ethnographic and behaviour change studies to value propositions and brand studies. Ag is a sector we are passionate about! For more information on our experience and how we can help, please get in touch.