Agriculture and Climate Change: Evidence on Influencing Farmer Behaviours

This report sets out to answer a number of questions relating to farming behaviour and meeting greenhouse gas emissions targets.

Executive Summary

Introduction to the Programme

Policy context in Scotland

The Scottish Government (SG) has estimated that agriculture and related land use could contribute around 20% of total Scottish greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 sets in statute the target to reduce Scotland's emissions by 80% by 2050, with an interim target of a 42% reduction by 2020. Farmers have a key role to play in meeting the targets, both because of the contribution of agriculture to total GHG emissions, and because farming can fix carbon in the soil, acting as a permanent sink.

The overarching context for agricultural policy in Scotland is the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which is designed to protect agriculture throughout the European Union by influencing prices, outputs and farmers' incomes. Currently the CAP provides a level of income security to farmers as well as a 'cross compliance' framework for sustainable management of the environment.

Within Scotland, Farming for a Better Climate (FFBC) is currently the only policy initiative set up by the SG with the specific aim of mitigating climate change in agriculture. FFBC is a targeted communication strategy designed to encourage farmers to adopt efficiency measures that reduce emissions, while at the same time having an overall positive impact on business performance.

Many actions encouraged through FFBC potentially qualify for grant funding through the Scotland Rural Development Programme (SRDP), a major programme of economic, environmental and social measures designed to develop rural Scotland. Broader incentives designed to support the growth of renewable energy in Scotland can also benefit farmers, and initiatives operating outwith the SG, such as Future Proofing Scotland's Farming, support the implementation of agricultural policy in Scotland.

The CAP will undergo major reform at EU level post 2013. There is potential for specific measures to be considered through the cross compliance regime that links farming practices to subsidy payments, as well as opportunities for introducing further climate action measures.

The need for a programme of evidence gathering in relation to agriculture and climate change behaviours

A large volume of research, from a range of disciplines, is available on factors influencing attitudes and behaviours. Research indicates that very rarely is a decision made in full knowledge of all the costs, benefits and risks, or in isolation from outside influences. Making permanent changes to long established habits takes time, even when change is perceived as necessary. Outcomes of interventions are difficult to predict, and responses vary by target groups.

These findings from research relating to the general population are relevant to farmers. However, there are circumstances relating to farmers as business people which are unique. Agricultural systems are dynamic, since producers and consumers are continuously responding to changes in crop and livestock yields, food prices, input prices, resource availability. This volatility is largely due to factors that farmers have no, or little, control over; such as weather conditions, extreme weather events, outbreaks of disease and pests. To provide farmers with some protection against external shocks, agriculture has historically accessed programmes of subsidy payments. Any attempts to influence farmer behaviours must therefore acknowledge the social, environmental and economic cultural context of farming in Scotland.

The Agriculture and Climate Change: Evidence on Influencing Behaviours Programme (ACC programme) was set up in 2011 and carried out by analysts in the Rural Analytical Unit within the SG. The programme had three overarching aims:

  • To gain a better understanding of the range of factors influencing farmers' behaviours (in general, and in relation to environmental issues),
  • To consider the effectiveness of the climate change mitigation measures in use/available to policy makers
  • To consider how policy makers in Scotland, and opinion formers working with farmers, could most usefully draw on these behavioural insights to refine the suite of initiatives which aim to influence farming practice in relation to mitigating climate change.
  • The objectives of the programme were to:
  1. Explore what is known about the range of factors influencing attitudes and behaviours, both of farmers and the general population
  2. Consider the range of approaches taken by governments to date to influence farmer behaviours in relation to climate change, and what is known about their effectiveness
  3. Examine factors influencing farmers' uptake of policy measures
  4. Synthesise the available evidence on farmers' awareness of climate change issues, and uptake of mitigation measures
  5. Consider what can be learned from aspects of policy initiatives that have been, or are proving to be more/less successful
  6. Investigate how policy development and delivery can be informed by understanding and modelling the behaviours and motivations of groups of farmers who share particular farming styles
  7. Identify critical gaps in the evidence base and consider how best to fill these gaps
  8. Draw together the key messages and make recommendations for more effective policy development and delivery in relation to mitigating agricultural emissions in Scotland

A scoping study was carried out to coordinate information on the policy initiatives that the SG, key non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) and industry in Scotland have underway that seek to influence farmer behaviours in relation to climate change mitigation. Individual policy measures were then mapped onto the type of behavioural levers they are using, in order to investigate whether there may be opportunities to consider additional/alternative approaches. The main elements of the ACC programme were an international literature review and a series of interviews with opinion formers in the agricultural community in Scotland. Naturally, it was vital to include the perspectives of farmers themselves. Both the analysts and policy makers involved in the programme were very aware of the burden that research already places on farm businesses. When the literature review indicated that a number of recent, relevant studies had included Scottish farmer perspectives, along with the views and experiences of farmers across the UK, it was decided not to conduct interviews, or a survey, with farmers themselves, but to seek the views of a range of opinion formers who communicate regularly with farmers.


Literature review

The literature review synthesised the available evidence from Scotland, elsewhere in the UK and internationally to address research questions relating to: influences on farmer attitudes and behaviours; the characteristics of groups of farmers who are, or who are likely to be, more/less responsive to individual measures; approaches governments have taken to influence farmer behaviours in relation to climate change and evidence of their effectiveness; factors affecting uptake of policy measures. The report is structured around these questions.

Interviews with opinion formers

Through their work as agricultural consultants, with agricultural lobby groups or environmental non-departmental public bodies, 'opinion formers' are familiar with a broad range of farmer experiences. Fourteen of these opinion formers were interviewed as part of the ACC programme. Interviews focused on: farmer awareness of climate change mitigation initiatives in general, and Farming for a Better Climate in particular; the main factors that appear to influence whether or not mitigation measures are taken up by farmers; and suggestions for improving climate change messages and advice to farmers.

Factors influencing farmers' attitudes and behaviours

Key points from the literature

Key drivers of behaviours in the general population are: external factors (the context for change), economic factors (financial costs and effort); internal factors (habit, personal capacity etc); and social factors (personal and societal values, social commitment etc). Naturally all of these apply to the decision making processes and behaviours of farmers.

Many additional considerations are specific to farmers and to climate change, since changes in the climate influence many components of agricultural systems.

  • External factors create the context in which farmer behaviours can, or cannot, be influenced. These include: capacity to change (some environmental behaviours are just not possible within certain farm environments); size and type of farm; farmer demographics
  • Economic factors influencing farmer behaviours relate to: market volatility (the dynamic nature of agricultural systems; present and future levels of subsidy, market prices and operating costs); the nature of economic motivation; quality assurance issues; whether or not to participate in environmental schemes; issues re non-profitable farming systems
  • Internal factors, such as attitudes, values and beliefs, are influential, although with farmers, as with the general population, there are wider issues about the links between attitudes and behaviours and the implications about changing one without the other. Farmers, tend to work to long timescales so, once they commit to decisions, they are often tied into specific actions for years. However, there are specific 'moments of change' when it is easier to make alterations to farm management practices
  • Social factors include ways in which farmers are influenced by the views and behaviours of family members, peers and neighbours. The farming community contains a diverse range of decision makers, who respond to policy levers and economic influences in different ways. Within a farm business it is important to consider who is responsible for making key decisions. If the farmer is not acting alone, how might the characteristics of others affect farm business decisions?

Opinion formers also wished to stress that:

  • Measures do not necessarily have to be profitable to be adopted by farmers, but it is important that they cost little or nothing to implement, and that the incentives on offer are commensurate with the scale of the challenge
  • Farmers work long days and deal with many issues. They may be aware of mitigation options, and interested in taking advantage of them, but lack the time to deal with planning and implementation.

Some implications for policy development and delivery

  • Since farmers are influenced by their social networks, desired behaviours in the innovator/early adopter group need to be encouraged, endorsed and promoted.
  • Farmers' capacity to change is a key consideration in influencing behaviours. Designing advice as well as payments and incentives to target farmers in particular circumstances may make it easier for them to adapt their business decision making.

Characterising groups of farmers to inform agricultural policy development and delivery

Key points from the literature

The diversity of the farming community is widely recognised, making it important to find ways to group together certain behaviours and attitudes into more heterogeneous sub-groups, or segments in order to effectively influence behaviour. Extensive work on farmer segmentation has been carried out by Defra, and a five group model built up on the basis of the evidence. The likely responsiveness of the individual groups to policy measures has also been investigated.

  • Custodians are ready to be influenced, particularly if their conservation role is recognised. They will obey the rules, but prefer to be persuaded and encouraged. The cost and time of keeping up to date with regulations is relatively greater for them, as their holdings are often smaller
  • Lifestyle choice farmers are likely to be responsive to messages around the emotional aspects of farming, and are familiar with environmental issues. They are unlikely to be well informed about regulations, or to have time to keep up to date with them
  • Pragmatists wish to be compliant for the good of the business, as long as the cost of compliance is not excessive. Their emotional connection to farming may make it difficult to influence them where respecting environmental constraints would impact on their freedom to farm in particular ways
  • Modern family businesses want to know the potential business gains. They are likely to be familiar with the environmental regulations that are important to them, and appreciate information, but trust their own judgement. Clear justification for legislation is needed; they are susceptible to influence if compliance is practical
  • Challenged enterprises are likely to be least engaged with management techniques, and unfamiliar with the rules. Any time spent on paper work is likely to focus on finances. Where regulation incurs costs or restraints on current practices, they may choose to disobey. A tailor-made approach, such as linking compliance to financial incentives, might be required to reach them.

The Defra segmentation approach has been used in several studies and, of course, the percentages of farmers grouped into the various segments varies from study to study. However, challenged enterprises and lifestyle choice groups are consistently the smallest (each less than 10% of the sample). One study placed over 50% of the sample in the pragmatist group; but the initial Defra survey indicated that more than 40% were classified as modern family businesses, and 23% as custodians. It should be noted that farmers often display characteristics from all of the segmentation groups and tend to be placed into the 'best fit' category.

Work to place the segmentation framework within an existing survey on the physical and economic performance of farm businesses showed that the expectations of the characteristics of the segmentations groups were broadly met. However, the choice of segmentation group could be influenced, to a certain extent, by factors impacting on the farmer at the time of interview.

Some implications for policy development and delivery

  • Invoking both the profit and stewardship motives in farmers would be likely to encourage a balance of business and environmentally oriented behaviours
  • The segmentation approach allows for better targeting of initiatives that are sensitive to farmers' values, as well as their circumstances. There is potential to use the Scotland's Farm Accounts Survey to gather information that will allow a similar segmentation approach to be developed in Scotland. However, it is important that the segment groupings make sense to Scottish farmers. It must also be acknowledged that segment categorisation is largely subjective, and is not necessarily fixed.

Approaches taken by governments to influence farmer behaviours in relation to climate change, and what is known about their effectiveness

Policy and economic mechanisms available to policy makers

A range of policy approaches is available to governments to encourage positive environmental behaviour among farmers:

  • Regulation - placing restrictions on what farmers are legally allowed to do and prohibit undesirable management practices. This works best in situations where the target group is already, or can quickly be, persuaded that the regulated actions fall below an acceptable 'reference level' of responsible farming practice
  • Economic incentives - taxes and subsidies are the most widely used and analysed instruments
  • Market-led and 'voluntary' approaches - promoting environmentally beneficial management practices to encourage higher standards of environmental behaviours among farmers. These have significant potential to encourage higher standards of management practice on farms and are attractive because they offer 'win-win' options to motivated producers, but are likely to be insufficient to drive enhanced management of the countryside as a whole
  • Education/information provision - raising awareness of environmental issues, what can be done to address them and why this could be beneficial to farmers. This works in tandem with any/all of the above mechanisms.

Each approach has different advantages and disadvantages in terms of cost, success at influencing behaviours, speed of implementation etc. Success almost always depends on a range of factors. Understanding the interplay between these different elements within a particular policy or commercially-driven approach can be crucial to understand how and why they succeed or fail in different situations.

The SG is currently using a range of policy mechanisms to influence farmers' environmental behaviours. However, only the focus farms which are part of Farming for a Better Climate use the four types of policy levers available to influence behaviours: making it easier to change; giving the right signals; getting people involved; and leading by example.

Key points from the literature

  • Cross compliance - farmers need clear information about the rationale for cross compliance measures and why the rules are needed. It is important to make it as easy as possible for them to keep up to date with regulatory requirements
  • Nitrate vulnerable zones - although there is sometimes resentment among farmers about NVZ designation, and a widespread feeling that others should share the costs, the evidence suggests that farmers who are disengaged present a greater challenge to policy than farmers who are resistant
  • Focus farms - there is no evidence to date on the effectiveness of focus farms in Scotland, although they follow a model (monitor farms) which has been evaluated positively. Potential tensions between the commercial imperative and environmental measures may be alleviated if CAP reform includes increased emphasis on environmental cross compliance measures
  • Agri-environment schemes - farmers' decisions to participate in AESs are influenced by factors such as farm type and size, tenure arrangements and previous experience of participation. Refining policy to improve targeting might help to encourage 'newcomers,' small farms and tenant farmers. Giving farmers more opportunity to innovate within schemes, and setting targets that would allow farmers to see, measure and communicate their conservation progress, would meet their needs to enact and display their skills to their peers
  • Renewables - farmers are aware of and interested in renewables initiatives, and the potential additional income they provide. However, there are (or are perceived to be) substantial transaction costs involved in the adoption of renewables measures. Clearer information and better signposting to available support could help to increase uptake of schemes. Farmers could also be encouraged to collaborate with each other in the adoption of initiatives.

Opinion formers also wished to stress that:

  • The more time and money farmers spend complying with regulations, the less they can spend on creating and selling produce (although regulation may also bring other benefits). Better regulations and clearer instructions would make it easier for farmers to comply
  • Making mitigation measures mandatory does not persuade farmers of their merit, whereas voluntary measures are usually adopted because farmers have been convinced that they have value. However, if farmers can see why mandatory measures are necessary and/or beneficial, they are more likely to support them
  • The five key actions encouraged through FFBC are all seen as good practice, so farmers looking to increase their efficiency would be likely to take them up anyway
  • The process of applying for grant funding through SRDP is perceived to be over complicated
  • Farmers are aware of, and interested in, renewables initiatives and the Feed-in Tariff Scheme, in particular.

Some implications for policy development and delivery

  • Farmers need to be convinced by the science, particularly the science supporting cross compliance measures
  • Farmers who do not engage present the greatest challenge to policy makers - using newer channels of information transfer may attract farmers who do not actively seek information
  • Learning from initiatives elsewhere in the UK - many of the activities being carried out as part of Farming Futures (England) and Farming Connect (Wales) are already going on in Scotland, but it might be useful to look at how Farming Connect works with women and younger farmers. The short fact sheets produced as part of Farming Futures appear to be a useful resource, for their focus on a breadth of perspectives (including 'what the scientists say'), and their lists of challenges and opportunities
  • Current proposals for CAP reform beyond 2013 provide a number of opportunities for using additional policy levers, or strengthening levers already in use. Examples include expansion of farm advisory services; additional investment in research and innovation, and steps to translate research results into practice; and measures to stimulate entrepreneurship in rural communities.

Evidence on farmer awareness of climate change issues and uptake of mitigation measures

Key points from the literature

  • Awareness of climate change issues - recent research conducted in Scotland and England has indicated that many farmers have a limited understanding of climate change issues. The role of effective information provision and guidance is of paramount importance, as farmers cannot act to mitigate environmental issues if they are not aware of their existence
  • Farmers' self reported actions in relation to climate change - farmers who said they were taking action reported that it was rising input prices that had made them more careful about using resources efficiently. The most common reasons for not taking actions were that farmers did not see climate change affecting their land, and did not believe that there was much they, personally, could do to mitigate the effects of climate change.
  • Analysis of uptake of climate change measures within SRDP Rural Priorities revealed that external factors such as size of farm, sector and region all have an influence on farms' uptake of climate change options
  • Monitoring the implementation of GHG mitigation measures - a scoping study in 2011 concluded that the ability of existing data to describe the uptake and GHG impact of the mitigation measures prescribed by the FFBC programme is reasonable, although it could be improved by monitoring farm practice activity, improving the robustness of the emissions factors related to such activity, and attribution of the emissions changes to FFBC.

Opinion formers also wished to stress that:

  • Awareness of climate change issues has substantially increased amongst farmers in recent years, but awareness will not be enough to 'galvanise action'
  • Mitigation measures are already being taken up in large numbers, and renewables initiatives are particularly popular with farmers
  • Many farmers adopt mitigation measures because they are seen as good practice, or because they make business sense, rather than because they connect them with climate change
  • Where farmers are not taking up measures which, on paper, would seem to cost them little and benefit their businesses, this could be partly due to transaction costs (perceived or actual), and scepticism (both about the reliability of the science in relation to climate change, the reliability of the measures and the difference that one farm, or even one country is able to make to emissions).

Factors influencing farmers' uptake of policy measures

Key points from the literature

Cost issues. Many mitigation options entail additional costs to farmers, and smaller farms may be less willing or able to tolerate these costs. Farmers are also required to assess risk in relation to the uncertainty of return on investment. The additional paperwork and administration associated with individual schemes are particularly unpopular with farmers.

Relationships between farmers and policy makers

  • Farmer perspectives on environmental responsibility - farmers' first priority is the farm business. However, they may also see themselves as stewards of the landscape, and feel frustrated when this role is not acknowledged. Where environmental problems are recognised, farmers often feel unfairly singled out as responsible. Farmers also feel that particular policy measures (such as NVZ areas) discriminate against particular groups of farmers
  • Farmer endorsement of agricultural policy - if farmers believe that government policy is unjust, or unscientific, they are less likely to support it. This has implications for the costs of enforcing regulations, as well as damaging relationships between government and farmers.
  • Opportunities for retailers to help drive up standards. All major UK supermarkets are currently promoting low carbon products and encouraging producers to calculate the GHG emissions of their products. However, data availability and transparency are major issues in relation to assessment of life cycle GHG emissions of goods and services.

Relationships between farmers. A number of environmental goods and services demanded of agriculture are difficult to provide without collective action. Farmers are generally considered to value their independence, but there have been successful instances of farmer cooperation in Scotland: marketing and buying cooperatives, for example. There is also a tradition of collective action in some areas, such as crofting communities. Broadening the role of farm advisory services and the scope of funding sources, and strengthening existing farmer networks, would help to foster a culture of collaboration and cooperation.

Opinion formers also wished to stress that uptake of policy measures could be increased by:

  • Ease of implementation - farmers do not mind making minor adjustments to their management practices, but even measures that appear to be 'win/wins' will not necessarily be adopted if they are perceived to be difficult to implement
  • Incentivising measures - without the possibility of a new, or increased, revenue stream, most farmers do not have the time/money to implement new methods. However, it is important to convince farmers (through provision of appropriate advice) that measures are beneficial in their own right, or farmers may revert to their previous practices when the initiatives end
  • The role of supermarkets - supermarkets have the potential to be a major influence on farmer behaviours, as they are in a position to work with suppliers to raise environmental standards, as well as being well placed to influence consumer behaviour. However, interviewees raised concerns about where the additional financial burden would fall if supermarkets should insist on more stringent environmental standards for products in the future.

Some implications for policy development and delivery

  • Transaction costs - a variety of ways to ease transaction costs are suggested in the literature, including reimbursement of some costs, particularly for smaller farms; increased targeting of schemes, with clearer objectives and use of existing networks to channel information; development of farmer networks and collective options for scheme entry; an engagement strategy which offers support for administration and emphasises the resource saving aspects of the regulation
  • Farmers' responsibility for public goods - it is important to acknowledge the role of farmers as stewards of the environment
  • Continue to develop agricultural policy in consultation with the farming industry - this includes building trusting relationships and being aware of the constraints that farmers face, as well as setting clear targets, simplifying processes where possible and considering the flexibility of measures
  • Consider whether, where and how collective action might be encouraged - this includes making benefits more apparent to participants; raising awareness of the benefits of cooperation; customising policy measures to local circumstances; collective initiatives serving as gateways to other services, such as group training.

Improving communication and knowledge exchange

Key points from the literature - communication mechanisms

  • Mass media - this is the main vehicle for making farmers aware of new technology and schemes. The farming press is a particularly important source of information for farmers. However, other mechanisms are more effective in encouraging farmers to respond to the information they are given
  • One-to-one advice - farm visits from agricultural advisers are highly valued by farmers, as advice can be tailored to specific farm situations, and farmers encouraged to take up actions appropriate to their farms. To be most effective, the one-to-one advice must be impartial and from a trusted and credible source
  • Demonstration farms are particularly useful for showing how technologies and ideas can be applied in the circumstances of particular farms, and provide opportunities for farmers to meet and exchange ideas. To be effective, they must be widely promoted and marketed
  • Group learning - discussion groups can encourage exchange of ideas and experiences. Events should be no longer than two hours; subject matter should be relevant and focused and include a practical or applied element
  • Information technology - with much greater use of the internet/social media etc, farmers may be becoming more receptive to these methods of communication.
  • Formal or structured education or learning - farmers who attend training courses are already predisposed to farm conservation activities. However, workshops run by initiatives that provide economic incentives as well as environmental benefits have been particularly successful.

Opinion formers also wished to stress that:

  • Farmers like to see the approaches that their neighbours are taking. If they witness the 'win/wins' for themselves, they are able to assess the benefits
  • It can be difficult to persuade farmers to attend events but, during winter months, farmers have more time to consider changes to their management practices
  • Only farmers who actually attend events will benefit from them so this will have limited scope for change
  • It is important that typical farms are used, so that farmers feel they can realistically follow the example of those demonstrating their learning.
  • Major national events, such as the Royal Highland Show, can engage farmers away from the hectic environment of their own farms, when they may be more open to ideas and suggestions.

Key points from the literature - the message

  • Written materials should be topical, snappy, colourful and personally relevant. Information should be clear and practical
  • Messages should aim to convince the receiver that the problem is serious, it affects them, the recommended actions will solve the problem, and that they are capable of performing the actions
  • Advice is most likely to be well received and acted upon if it offers a clear financial dividend and/or is compatible with running a successful business
  • Farmers appreciate advice which helps them to address current concerns
  • Better coordination of advice to farmers would prevent duplication, and prevent messages from being undermined by conflicting statements.

Opinion formers also wished to stress that:

  • Messages are more effective when 'climate change' is not the only benefit
  • Materials should be written in plain English, by people who understand farming
  • There is a lack of awareness at the farm level of issues such as soil quality and the amount of fuel used for specific tasks. Better information would allow farmers to save money through making more cost-effective choices.

Key points from the literature - the messenger

  • Those who communicate with farmers should combine experience, practical knowledge, good listening skills, good networking with other experts, fluency, energy and enthusiasm, common sense and the ability to relate technical information to the farm setting
  • Farmers are more willing to engage with advice when they see the process to be one of mutual respect. The reputation of the organisation employing advisers is also important
  • Farmers need to be sure that the organisation supplying the advice does not have its own agenda or, if it does, that the agenda is transparent and FiTs with the farmer's experience.

Opinion formers also wished to stress that:

  • It can take a long time to earn farmers' trust and, once it has been lost, it is not easily regained.
  • Key points from the literature - working with farmers and their social networks
  • Farmers place a premium on information from locally known and credible sources. It is important that scientists whose research underpins advice have (or gain) direct local experience
  • Within any community there is a multitude of different 'agri-cultures,' each with their own concept of 'good farming.' Influencing behaviours involves targeting more than individual farmers - it involves targeting whole cultures of farming
  • There is a need to involve farming culture in the process of problem framing and resolution. Developing solutions with farmers should involve an iterative process of informing farmers about the issue and contextualising it within local farming circumstances
  • Messages passed through a group are likely to have higher 'in-group' status and create a positive social norm.

Opinion formers also wished to stress that:

  • Farmers receive messages about climate change from a range of sources over which the Scottish Government and its agencies have no (or little) control. Tabloid newspapers, in particular, are often hostile to climate science
  • Messages about mitigation measures can be more effective coming from within the farming community.

Key points from the literature - knowledge exchange

  • Understanding, and practical implementation of, the provision of advice have both seen a shift in response to a changing agricultural context
  • Modern agriculture requires both top-down knowledge transfer and bottom-up knowledge exchange (using local farmer knowledge, for example).

Opinion formers also wished to stress that:

  • Farmers need a better understanding of both the likely benefits and negative impacts of climate change
  • There is a degree of scepticism amongst farmers about what difference they, or even Scotland, can make, as the climate changes
  • Although it is inevitable that science evolves, and policy initiatives and guidance change to accommodate developments in research, farmers may be confused by what they perceive as a lack of consistency in the actions they are being encouraged to take.

Key points from the literature - targeting messages

  • A range of receiver characteristics may influence the uptake of a message, so any promotional strategy should use a variety of message approaches
  • Defra's segmentation model has been analysed in terms of the communication strategies required for different farmer categories. Farmers in the Custodians and Lifestyle Choice segments favour engagement in terms of respect, partnership working towards mutual benefits, and protecting the future. Modern Family Businesses and Challenged Enterprises are focused primarily on business, productivity and input costs. They value hard facts and concrete reasons
  • Non-adopters may be currently unaware of schemes, or aware of schemes and resistant to them. Different messages are required for each of these groups
  • Farmers who are averse to information seeking and disengaged from agricultural policy in general are likely to prove the most difficult to influence.

Opinion formers also wished to stress that:

  • Farmers who are most resistant are unlikely to be accessed via the usual communication channels. Suggestions for reaching this group include using the farming press and providing attention-grabbing, practical information at livestock markets, the Royal Highland Show and local events.

Using a range of mechanisms to influence behaviours

The literature on influencing behaviour in the general population is more explicit about the need for effective written materials to be supported with one-to-one (or group) interaction, and with some kind of social prompt. A framework of contexts has been developed as one way to isolate behaviour change mechanisms and better understand the rationale that underpins them:

  • The individual context - referring to initiatives that seek to change the attitudes and choices of consumers in ways that encourage more sustainable behaviours
  • The social context - attempting to shift the cultural conventions and social norms that underpin different activities
  • The material context - the objects, technologies and infrastructures that enable and constrain ways of behaving.

Messages for policy development and delivery

  • In addition to the key messages summarised above, a Good Practice Guide, Influencing environmental behaviour using advice, includes 16 good practice principles for 'policy makers who design such initiatives and their colleagues who manage such initiatives.' The Guide also provides a useful checklist for the provision of effective advice
  • Although farmers are more receptive to messages about increasing the efficiency and profitability of their farm businesses, the 'values' literature emphasises the importance of targeting intrinsic values (such as environmental stewardship) to achieve sustained behaviour change.


Why this programme is important

Farmers have a key role to play in mitigating climate change. There is a large evidence base in relation to influencing environmental behaviours; however, farmers operate in circumstances that are distinct from other industries. Climate variability has a strong influence on yield, productivity and, ultimately, farm income. The history of subsidisation is another unique factor within this industry. So it is important to have a good understanding of factors influencing farmer behaviours, as well as what is known about the effectiveness of the policy measures available to, and in use by, the Scottish Government. This programme set out to collate the available international evidence and assess its relevance to Scotland. The perspectives of a range of 'opinion formers' who are familiar with Scotland's farmers' current experiences and views add value to the work of the evidence gathering programme.

The work is timely, given Scotland's ambitious GHG emissions targets. There is also the opportunity to influence measures which could be implemented under CAP reform after 2013, and the next phase of the SRDP, as well as feeding into the ongoing development of agricultural and climate change policy more generally.

Is change practical and possible?

  • A range of policy measures is required to take account of regional and farm-specific circumstances. Where relevant, the issue of climate change needs to be contextualised to local farming circumstances
  • Uptake of measures is improved by flexibility within regulation, access to finance, and by appealing to the farmer's underlying values and motivations. There are also particular times and circumstances when farmers are more receptive to change - it is important to capitalise on these
  • The segmentation approach provides a means of representing different farming styles and should support better targeted initiatives which are sensitive to farmers' value systems, as well as their circumstances.

How can uptake of measures be encouraged?

This programme has identified a number of key issues that need to be addressed:

  • Cultural capital issues. It is important to farmers that they are able to demonstrate their expertise; that signs of their skills are visible to others. Productivist symbols are easy to demonstrate; environmental stewardship ones are less so.
  • Encouraging innovation. Since farmers are influenced by their peer group, it is important to ensure that innovative farmers are supported as exemplars. Allowing farmers more innovation in conservation practices may encourage a sense of pride in their expertise.
  • Demonstrating new farming techniques/technologies. Farmers appreciate the opportunity to try things out for themselves, but they have limited time and need to be sure that techniques/technologies will work in their particular farm circumstances. Demonstration activity does not necessarily require a permanent network of farms. Using a wider range of farms for specific activities might make it more convenient and relevant for farmers to attend demonstration events.
  • Mandatory and voluntary issues. Mandatory policy measures will have higher levels of uptake but, if farmers resent or do not understand them, there are implications for the cost of monitoring and enforcement, as well as breakdowns in trust between farmers and policy makers/regulators, as well as possible spillover in terms of lack of uptake of voluntary measures.
  • Collective action. Climate change has many impacts which are difficult to address at the level of the individual farm; and major renewables initiatives may only be feasible if farmers collaborate. There is mixed evidence in relation to collective action, however. Further research (to examine models operating in other OECD countries, for example) may provide useful lessons for Scotland
  • Considering all available policy levers and obtaining a mix of measures working in tandem. It may be useful to consider which levers are not being used at present, and whether/how they could be included.
  • Working with farmers. It is important to consider the farming industry when developing agricultural policy, in order to build trust and so that policy makers are able to benefit from the experience and expertise of farmers.

What do farmers need to know about the impact of climate change, and what they can do to mitigate its effects?

  • It is crucial to consider the nature of 'the message'; how it is expressed and presented; who communicates it and how. It is also important to consider wider knowledge exchange activities that acknowledge farmer experience and expertise, and to involve farmers in discussion and direction setting. The development of scientific goals and research, and how results are communicated, should be considered to help both parties understand and respect each other's needs.
  • Interviews with opinion formers highlighted a number of issues where there are specific information needs in the agricultural community, as well as misperceptions and misunderstandings. For example, some farmers expect emissions targets to be introduced at the level of the individual farm and are planning to wait before implementing their 'quick hit.' It is important to make it clear to farmers that targets, if introduced, would relate to broad management practices, and that farmers will not be penalised if they adopt technologies and practices that anticipate targets.

How do we achieve sustainable farmer behaviours in relation to climate change mitigation?

  • The role of changing social norms is important in achieving sustainable farming behaviours. However, more research is needed to explore engagement techniques especially to help contact and influence those who are disengaged.
  • Although economic incentives can induce positive environmental behaviour among farmers, it is questionable whether there is necessarily any corresponding attitudinal change. Where behaviours are changed without changes in attitudes, they are potentially unsustainable without continued support and intervention.
  • There is an increasing body of evidence on the importance of using intrinsic values in a consistent way to drive long-term culture change. Promoting farmers' environmental stewardship role, in addition to business benefit motives in farming, would be likely to encourage a balance of business and environmentally oriented behaviours, stimulating sustained behaviour change.


Email: Angela Morgan

Back to top