NSW farmers trust their instincts, but are open to new ideas on changing climate

More than two-thirds of farmers in New South Wales’ Central West are still following “farmers instincts” otherwise known as “gut” when it comes to on-farm decisions, according to recently published survey results.

But there might be some wriggle room. The survey found they are also open to new ideas about land management, including regenerative farming practices and managing climate change.

Started in 2019 and published in December as Agriculture in Central West NSW: Rural Landholder Social Benchmarking Report 2022, the research aimed to use “surveys in partnership
with local farming organisations across multiple Australian states to provide accurate information to support improved soil and land management”.

Dr Hanabeth Luke

Led by Dr Hanabeth Luke of Southern Cross University, the research team mailed questionnaires to a random sample of 2500 rural property owners who had a landholding in Central West NSW of greater than 10 hectares.

Postcodes included Bland, Blayney, Cabonne, Cowra, Forbes, Lachlan, and Parkes.

This meant 1275 possible respondents, of which 575 completed the survey, a response rate of 31%.

As well as documenting the hopes and aspirations of farmers in the district, the results also highlighted their values, beliefs, norms, and practices, as well as cataloguing their main challenges.

Dr Luke said 70 per cent of those who completed the survey responded that they wouldn’t take an on-farm risk if their intuition, or “gut feeling”, said no.

“Nearly a third of landholders indicate that their farm is doing fine the way things are and see no reason to change, which correlates negatively with best practice implementation,” Luke said.

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“Half of the farmers were interested in learning more about regenerative farming approaches, with many highlighting the need to adapt to climate change and to take such actions as drought-proofing the farm.”

Other results included that:

  • 90% of respondents were open to new ideas about farming and land management
  • 51% agreed they had the finances to experiment with new ideas, but only 46% had sufficient time to do so
  • 38% considered themselves to be early adopters of change, while
  • 28% were happy with the way things are.

Taken together, the responses suggested that while farmers had an open mindset, there were financial and time constraints on adoption.

Also in Cosmos: Clever farming in changing times

Farmers listed their top three issues as water-holding capacity of soils, declining soil health and/or soil productivity, and the absence of important services and infrastructure.

They also believed climate change would be the biggest factor for them to consider over the next decade, linking it to issues such as seasonal variability, drought and water storage.

“Nearly two-thirds of respondents agreed that human activities influence our changing climate, and that landholders in the region should do all they can to reduce carbon emissions,” Luke explained.

“More than half of all respondents agree that climate change will have dire consequences if nothing is done, and that fundamental changes are required to make the region’s farming systems resilient.”

The research in Central West NSW formed part of a broader Soil CRC national farmer project called Surveying Farm Practices for which four surveys were undertaken in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and New South Wales.

A new project expanding on the first and called What drives farmer decisions? will zero in on Tasmania and Queensland.

Clarification: 27 February 2023: Cosmos removed the description of Dr Hanabeth Luke as a “soils researcher.”

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