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.

1. Introduction to the Programme

1.1 Agricultural 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 emissions. The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 sets in statute the target to reduce Scotland's emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, with an interim target of a 42% reduction in emissions by 2020. Farming contributes to carbon dioxide emissions through the direct use of fossil fuels in farm operations; the indirect use of embedded energy in inputs which are energy intensive to manufacture and distribute, such as fertiliser and compound feeds; and the cultivation of soils resulting in the loss of soil organic matter. However, farming can also fix carbon where organic matter containing carbon accumulates in the soil, acting as a permanent sink. Carbon also accumulates in timber or biomass, which can substitute for fossil fuels as an energy source[1]. Consequently, farmers have a key role to play in addressing the challenges of climate change.

Common Agricultural Policy

The overarching context for agricultural policy in Scotland is the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which is designed to protect agriculture throughout the EU 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[2]. In addition, there are related policies which will impact on greenhouse gas emission targets, such as requirements under the Water Framework Directive.

Farming for a Better Climate

Within Scotland, Farming for a Better Climate (FFBC)[3] 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, and help them adapt to climate change, while at the same time having an overall positive impact on business performance. The FFBC initiative also includes four 'focus farms,' working with advisers to decide how best to facilitate savings and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Open days take place on the farms, to demonstrate how emissions can be cut, while improving the efficiency and profitability of farm businesses.

Scotland Rural Development Programme

Many of the measures encouraged through FFBC potentially qualify for grant funding through the Scotland Rural Development Programme (SRDP)[4]. SRDP is a major programme of economic, environmental and social measures designed to develop rural Scotland. The most relevant eligible activities include: manure/slurry storage and treatment; support for renewable energy in agriculture; treatment of run-off of nutrients and other pollutants.


Broader incentives designed to support the growth of renewable energy in Scotland can benefit farmers. An example is the Feed-In Tariffs Scheme (FiTs)[5], a financial subsidy for renewable electricity generators. Farmers can also be paid for the electricity generated using renewables.

Other initiatives

There are also initiatives operating outwith the SG that support the implementation of agricultural policy in Scotland. One important example is Future Proofing Scotland's Farming[6], a three year programme delivered by Soil Association Scotland (in partnership with Quality Meat Scotland). This uses on-farm events and other resources to prepare agricultural businesses for the impacts, opportunities and risks that both climate and economic change bring.

Looking to the future: CAP reform

The CAP is due for major reform at EU level post-2013, and there is potential for specific climate change mitigation measures, including some of those encouraged in FFBC, to be made mandatory through the cross compliance regime that links farming practices to subsidy payments. There is also the opportunity to introduce further climate change action measures. Better understanding about farmers' attitudes and behaviours will enable policy makers to shape and target initiatives appropriately.

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

Attempts to influence farmer behaviours must acknowledge that a major culture change must be achieved in order to deliver climate change outcomes. This is no different to delivering climate change outcomes across other business sectors and indeed individual households.

Individual farmers and farm businesses are the drivers of that cultural change and so, while farm characteristics (such as size of farm, type of tenure, agricultural sector, type of business structure) are important considerations for policy makers, it is also necessary to understand the attitudes, values and goals that influence farmer actions.

Behaviours are complex. Research indicates that very rarely is a decision made in full knowledge of all the costs, benefits and risks, or with the individual making that decision in isolation from outside influences. Making permanent changes to long established habits takes time, even when change is perceived as necessary. Accordingly, fully evaluating the outcomes of interventions is difficult, and behavioural responses to policy interventions will also vary by target groups (Defra, 2008).

A large volume of research is available on factors influencing behaviours. This comes from a range of disciplines, including economics, psychology, and sociology (Darnton, 2008). There is also a considerable amount of literature that focuses on farmer behaviours, both in general and in relation to environmental issues. A good deal of this relates to the UK, or England, but there is less that focuses specifically on Scotland. The SG needed a better understanding of what the research can tell us about the issues faced by Scotland's farmers, as well as what Scotland can learn from findings relating to other countries.

At a global level, it has been noted that the majority of current mitigation measures are related to management practices, and their implementation does not depend on costly or complex technological changes (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2008). In addition, various studies have illustrated that actions by farmers which should represent 'win-win' opportunities (i.e. be both profitable and reduce greenhouse gas emissions) are not being implemented by farmers (Moran et al, 2011; MacLeod et al, 2010). If farmers are not taking advantage of opportunities that would appear to benefit their businesses, as well as helping to meet climate change mitigation targets, it would be helpful to know why. For example, is it that the full costs of the measures have not been captured and that, from farmers' perspectives, the options appear less attractive than they should? Or is it that the main barriers are cultural, or perhaps relate to information gaps, or farmers' capacity to change? Whatever the situation, better evidence would help the targeting of initiatives and the measurement of their success.

A range of voluntary and mandatory policy options is available to the SG, but it is important to coordinate and assess the existence and reliability of evidence of their effectiveness in the complex context of farming practice needs. Evidence of the policy options adopted by other countries is also available, but the literature needed to be explored to investigate whether lessons are transferable to Scotland.

The Agriculture and Climate Change: Evidence on Influencing Behaviours Programme (ACC programme) was designed to coordinate and review the available evidence on the external factors, attitudes and motivations underpinning farmers'[7] behaviours in relation to climate change mitigation (and broader environmental) measures, and to identify policy levers which are most likely to be effective in encouraging behaviours that will support actions to reduce GHG emissions.

The ACC programme was set up early in 2011 and completed in mid 2012. It was carried out in-house by SG social researchers in the Rural Analytical Unit (RAU), along with an Economic and Social Research Council PhD student during her internship in RAU.

1.3 The focus of the programme

In identifying the need for the ACC programme, it was important to be clear about areas in which evidence already exists, and where the gaps are, so the programme could be focused appropriately. We know that farming style, attitudes and values are important in determining willingness to change behaviours, but the programme was designed to gain a better understanding of the external factors and attitudes and motivations which underpin farmers' decision-making processes.

The SG already had a good idea of the mitigation actions that farmers in Scotland need to take, if agricultural emissions are to be reduced. Also, as indicated above, policy initiatives already provide a range of measures to achieve those actions. However, evidence was lacking on the levers that could encourage and barriers that might prevent farmers from taking up measures.

It was also important to consider the extent to which farmers, as decision makers, respond to signals from government, the industry, society and the market. This may depend on a number of factors, including where the message is coming from, how it is delivered, the opinions and behaviours of others, and whether farmers have the opportunity to contribute their own views and experiences.

1.4 Aims and objectives

The ACC 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

1.5 How the objectives were addressed

A number of separate exercises were designed to address the eight objectives. An initial scoping study was carried out to coordinate information on the policy initiatives that the SG, key non-departmental public bodies and industry in Scotland have underway that seek to influence farmer behaviours in relation to climate change mitigation, and the specific measures by which they aim to encourage action by farmers. This exercise also considered government initiatives in England and Wales.

The individual measures included in the various initiatives were than mapped onto the types of behavioural levers they are using. This part of the programme drew on the 'Four Es' approach devised by Defra[8], which encompasses factors that:

Enable make it easer for people to change their behaviours

Engage get people involved

Encourage through the right signals from government

Exemplify leading by example.

It is not always necessary for a measure to encompass all four factors. However, a better understanding of the policy levers that the SG and other governments are, and are not, currently using to influence farmer behaviours will help to indicate where there may be opportunities to consider additional or alternative approaches.

Objectives 1 to 7 were primarily addressed via a literature review. This considered the available evidence from Scotland, elsewhere in the UK and from OECD countries about factors that facilitate and hinder influencing farmer behaviour in relation to climate change mitigation (or environmental issues more widely). It also examined approaches taken by governments to influence farmer behaviours, and what is known about the effectiveness of particular initiatives. (Details of the methodology are included in Chapter 2.)

Objectives 4 and 5 were also addressed by a series of interviews with opinion formers in the agricultural community. In the main, these comprised the industry bodies and government agencies represented on the SG's Agriculture and Climate Change Stakeholder Group. Interviews explored the opinion formers' views of farmers' awareness of climate change issues and specific mitigation initiatives operating in Scotland; the main factors affecting adoption/non-adoption of measures and suggestions for improving uptake. (Details of the methodology are included in Chapter 2.)

Objectives 7 and 8 were addressed once the various strands of work had been completed and discussed with policy colleagues and the Programme Management Group. The key messages are summarised in a question and answer format in Chapter 9.

The individual strands of work were developed in tandem, and were revised as the work progressed. For example, the original programme plan included a scoping exercise to consider the messages/advice currently being communicated to Scottish farmers in relation to climate change mitigation: who is communicating; how; what are the messages; are they consistent? However, an early finding from the literature review was that a wealth of information exists on effective communication with farmers, and it is likely that much of this is already being used It was decided that it would be more profitable to coordinate the key findings and communicate directly with the communicators during the dissemination phase of the programme's work.

At the start of the programme, no firm decision had been made about how to involve Scotland's farmers in the work. Naturally, it was vitally important to include farmer perspectives. However, both the SG analysts and policy makers were very aware of the burdens 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.

1.6 Programme Management Group

The work of the programme was overseen by an internal Programme Management Group, whose role was to:

  • Provide ongoing strategic direction throughout the life of the programme
  • Identify and facilitate connections with relevant cross-office initiatives, and provide advice, contacts and introductions
  • Monitor progress on the programme
  • Provide a forum for examining the potential and limits of the research
  • Provide feedback on outputs
  • Promote the programme and use of its findings.

Representation on the group ensured that we kept up to date with the ongoing development of agricultural policy and plans for CAP reform etc. Group members also helped us to make appropriate links with:

  • The SG Climate Change Behaviours Research Programme 2010-2012[9]. The programme features a range of research projects to better understand the behaviour areas that are central to addressing climate change, and the most effective mechanisms for stimulating, facilitating and supporting new and more sustainable ways of living.
  • The SG Strategic Research Programmes (2012-2016) and, in particular, the Environmental Change Programme[10]. This includes a Theme which focuses on preserving and enhancing the ability of Scotland's rural economy to adapt to changing circumstances. It tackles key policy issues of CAP reform, the consequences of changes in the balance of trade, and how best to achieve robust adaptations that minimise the risks from climate change.


Email: Angela Morgan

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