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.

2. Methodology

2.1 Introduction

The various elements of the Agriculture and Climate Change: Evidence on Influencing Behaviours (ACC) Programme were introduced in Chapter 1. In this chapter, more detail is provided about the two key research exercises which were conducted as part of the programme.

2.2 Literature Review

The review synthesised the available evidence from Scotland, elsewhere in the UK and internationally (where messages were likely to be transferable to Scotland) to address five main research questions:

  • What influences farmer attitudes and behaviours, both in general and in relation to climate change?
  • What can be learned from the literature about what influences the attitudes and behaviours of the general population?
  • What are the characteristics of groups of farmers who are, or who are likely to be, more/less responsive to individual measures?
  • What approaches have governments taken to date to influence farmer behaviours in relation to climate change, and how effective have these been?
  • What factors influence farmers' uptake of individual policy measures and what can we learn from aspects of policy approaches that have been more/less successful?

The search for literature took place in three main phases:

  • Phase 1 - An initial scoping study was conducted to gain an understanding of the size and nature of the evidence base. A comprehensive list of search terms was compiled by analysts in consultation with policy colleagues. A search was then run using a range of search engines, including IDOX, KandE and Google Scholar. The search yielded a vast number of journal articles on 'climate change' most of which at least mentioned 'agriculture,' and it was necessary to find a robust way to filter the papers in order to select those that were most relevant
  • Phase 2 - A series of key documents was assembled with the advice of contacts and colleagues in Scottish Government, Defra, SAC, the Countryside and Community Research Institute, the James Hutton Institute, Scottish Land and Estates, and the University of Reading. As well as highlighting the importance of documents that had already been found in the scoping study, this process also uncovered a number of valuable unpublished reports
  • Phase 3 - The bibliographies of these papers were then examined to ensure their main sources were captured in the literature review. If carried out uncritically, this approach could lead to a selection bias (since authors may only cite authors with whom they agree). To prevent this, tools were used to find journal articles addressing similar subject matter, and to identify all articles that cited the original document, irrespective of whether they supported it. This led to a 'snowballing' effect, and a large number of related sources were found. The references section provides a complete list of the papers included in the review.

Triangulating the data collection in this manner helped ensure that important reports were not overlooked, and that key documents from the unpublished 'grey' literature were identified.

The literature reviewed for this study has generally been restricted to research published in journals after 2000, so that the findings and suggestions are as relevant to the current policy context as possible. Key studies published in the 1990s have been included where they add particular value (i.e. where the issues are still highly relevant but where no similar study, or none offering comparable insight, has been published since 1999).

Only countries that are members of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) were included, on the basis that these countries are broadly comparable with Scotland, in that they meet rigorous standards set by OECD in their commitment to market economies, backed by democratic institutions, and the wellbeing of all citizens.

2.3 Opinion Former Interviews

A series of interviews was conducted with individual opinion formers in the agricultural community. 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. As a result, they were able to speak about farmer awareness of climate change and climate change mitigation measures, farmer experiences and views of mitigation measures and broader environmental issues, as well as providing the historical and policy context for farmer attitudes and behaviours, and offering suggestions for actions to increase levels of uptake.

During November 2011, an SG social researcher interviewed 14 of these 'opinion formers.' Interviewees came from the following organisations: Scottish Agricultural College, Quality Meat Scotland, National Farmers Union of Scotland, Soil Association, Scottish Land and Estates, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Scottish National Heritage, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, National Beef Association and National Sheep Association.

The questions used in the semi-structured interviews were devised with the guidance of policy colleagues:

  • Are farmers aware of Farming for a Better Climate? If so, what do they think of it?
  • Are farmers aware of other farming-related climate change mitigation initiatives (relating to renewables, for example, or private sector initiatives)? If so, what do they think of them?
  • What are the main factors that appear to influence whether climate change mitigation measures are adopted by farmers?
  • Do you have any thoughts on why farmers are not taking up climate change mitigation measures which, on paper, would seem to cost them little or nothing, and would benefit their businesses?
  • Are there specific areas where greater flexibility of measures and/or implementation would be particularly beneficial to achieve environmental goals?
  • Are there particular occasions/situations when farmers will be most receptive to changes to farm management practices?
  • What could be done to improve climate change messages and advice to farmers?
    • What information/guidance/advice/support do farmers find useful/less useful?
    • Who do farmers trust to communicate with them?
    • Do farmers have any preferences in relation to format, frequency of communication, style, length etc?
    • Should messages be tailored to specific groups of farmers?
    • Are farmers receiving consistent messages about climate change mitigation from different sources (such as Scottish Government, Non Departmental Public Bodies, industry)?

Interviews were mainly carried out by telephone, although two were held face-to-face. Interviews were recorded, with the interviewees' permission, written up in note format and then analysed.

It was made clear at the outset of each interview that the opinion formers were being invited to discuss their perspective on the views of farmers, rather than their own personal experiences.

Although there are many advantages to using the 'opinion former' approach, it should be noted that the views of those who were interviewed will not necessarily be the same as the broader Scottish farming community. The sample of opinion formers was small and we cannot be sure that 14 different opinion formers would come up with the same messages. In addition, the farmers who interact with opinion formers are likely to be forward-thinking and innovative, not the more disengaged group who present more of a challenge to policy development and delivery.

Consequently, while the opinion former interviews complement the literature review and provide detail specific to Scotland at the end of 2011, these caveats should be borne in mind while reading the findings.

2.4 Presentation of findings

Naturally, the research questions which informed the literature review and the questions put to the opinion formers were not the same but, in many cases, they were exploring the same issues, and many of the same themes emerged. To avoid duplication between the sets of findings, information from the opinion former interviews appears throughout the report, providing a particular perspective where this seems to be most relevant. To differentiate from the reporting of findings from the literature review, the opinion former sections appear in shaded boxes.

A box of summary key points is included at the end of each chapter. Again, in general, it may be assumed that the views of opinion formers support findings from the literature review. However, key additional points or contradictions are highlighted.


Email: Angela Morgan

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