Publication - Research publication

Agriculture and Climate Change: Evidence on Influencing Farmer Behaviours

Published: 29 Oct 2012
Part of:
Research
ISBN:
9781782561514

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

141 page PDF

1.2 MB

141 page PDF

1.2 MB

Contents
Agriculture and Climate Change: Evidence on Influencing Farmer Behaviours
6. Evidence on Farmer Awareness of Climate Change Issues and Uptake of Mitigation Measures

141 page PDF

1.2 MB

6. Evidence on Farmer Awareness of Climate Change Issues and Uptake of Mitigation Measures

6.1 Introduction

Previous chapters have explored what is known about factors that influence farmers' uptake of environmental measures, in terms of both farmer attributes (internal/external/social/economic) and the characteristics of the policy measures themselves. As discussed earlier, sets of different factors influence uptake of measures that are mandatory and voluntary. Mandatory measures are more straightforward to implement, in many ways, although there are issues around trust, feelings of victimisation, flexibility of policies (see Chapter 7 for discussion of these), as well as monitoring and enforcement costs.

Measuring uptake of voluntary initiatives is a more complex business. The legally binding commitment to reduce GHG emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 has sharpened the need for better evidence on uptake of mitigation measures. This chapter focuses more specifically on what is known about uptake of Scottish farmers' uptake of climate change mitigation measures, and what transferable lessons may be learned from projects commissioned by Defra to improve uptake of individual measures in England.

6.2 Farmers' understanding and awareness of environmental issues and initiatives

Understanding and awareness of climate change issues

A suite of projects commissioned by Defra in recent years included work conducted by ADAS which aimed to evaluate and identify GHG mitigation measures with lowest costs/biggest potential impact in the agriculture sector; understand the current level of uptake of mitigation measures; and identify the main barriers/drivers for changing practice at a farm level (ADAS, 2010).

A combination of 751 telephone interviews, three focus groups and 10 in-depth interviews with farmers were conducted. Findings indicated a poor understanding of GHG emissions. The greatest awareness of GHG was for methane (42%), but only 11% were aware of nitrous oxide, and 42% were not aware of any of the GHGs from agriculture. Cereal and general cropping farmers were significantly more likely than livestock farmers to believe it was important to consider GHGs in decisions. Findings make it clear that there are major knowledge gaps and that, therefore, the role of information provision and guidance is of paramount importance. Farmers cannot act to mitigate environmental issues if they are not aware of their existence (ADAS, 2010).

In Scotland, survey work with 540 dairy farmers in 2009 found that only half of those in the sample agreed that temperatures would rise in the future. There was general uncertainty about a number of climate change related statements. Perhaps most worrying for policy initiatives relying on voluntary uptake was a small, but still important proportion of farmers actively disagreeing that temperatures would increase; and more than half agreeing that their input costs would increase due to climate change (Barnes and Toma, 2011). The research also included cluster analysis to indicate how themes were distributed across participating farmers. Key findings from this work were that 23% of the sample were disengaged, with no strong feelings about climate change, and 22% were negativists, agreeing with profit maximisation attitudes, but disagreeing that climate change will impact them negatively in the future. These findings are particularly important because dairy farming is an industry which could potentially mitigate a large amount of GHGs.

Awareness of climate change issues: messages from the opinion former interviews

Opinion formers felt that awareness of climate change issues has substantially increased amongst farmers in recent years, and the use of mitigation options is becoming much more widespread. This change has taken place over a very short timescale. This is significant, because farmers generally take/need much more time to alter management practices.

Although there is increasing awareness of climate change issues, interviewees felt there is still a good deal of uncertainty about particular mitigation initiatives. It was noted that, although Farming for a Better Climate is the only Scottish initiative explicitly designed to help mitigate the impact of climate change, a range of other initiatives and measures exist and are relevant to mitigation (for example, initiatives such as the FiT scheme - see Chapter 5 - and private and voluntary sector initiatives - see Chapter 7).

Interviewees noted that, while increasing awareness of climate change is important, this on its own will not be enough to 'galvanise action.'

Farmers' self reported actions in relation to climate change

In England, Farming Futures is working with Defra and a range of agencies to stimulate on-farm action to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Five surveys have now been undertaken as part of this work; the most recent, in February 2011, involving 400 farmers across England. Just one third of the sample (34%) felt that climate change was currently having an effect on their farm/land (compared with 38% in the survey conducted in March 2010). However, 59% predicted that climate change will have an effect on their farm/land in the next 10 years.

Less than a third (29%) of the farmers surveyed reported that they were taking action to adapt to the impacts of climate change on the farm. The percentage was lowest in beef farms (17%) and highest in poultry (34%) and horticulture (41%). Of the 285 respondents who reported they were not taking actions, 26% did not see climate change affecting their land, and 21% did not know what they could do to adapt. Of the 188 farmers who reported they were not currently taking action to mitigate climate change or reduce GHGs from their farms, 25% did not believe there was much that farmers could do, and 14% cited 'lack of information.'

Of those who reported that they were taking action to adapt to the impacts of climate change on the farm, 25% were improving water management, 13% were improving buildings and 10% were improving machinery/fuel efficiency. Fifty three percent of the farmers surveyed reported that they were currently taking action to specifically mitigate climate change or reduce GHG emissions. Percentages were lowest among beef and sheep farmers (41% and 45%) and highest among vegetable or potato farmers and pig farmers (both 63%). Improving energy efficiency was the main action being taken (by 47% of farmers). Reducing fuel use/using new vehicles or machinery was the next most popular action (17%).

Of particular interest to policy makers, 90% reported that rising input prices had made them more careful about using resources efficiently. Rates of agreement with this statement were highest among beef farmers (95%) and lowest among sheep farmers (85%).

Farmers were asked whether there were any topics, relating to their farm and climate change, that they would like further advice on. The majority (84%) felt that they did not require any further advice. Sixty two respondents did have requests for advice on a wide range of topics, principally renewable/alternative energy; the production of solar energy; installing wind turbines; and anaerobic digestion.

Farmers were also asked when they expected investment in climate change action to pay off. Of those who had made such investments, 28% estimated that it would be longer than 10 years before their investment paid off; and 14% believed it would never be paid off.

Although the Farming Futures surveys cover English farmers only, there is no reason to suppose that the picture would be very different in Scotland. Work by Dick et al, 2010, included a range of methods to investigate how best to achieve sustained GHG reduction from agriculture in Scotland. This research included a survey of 433 farmers from Scotland and England, which revealed that 93% were taking measures to reduce their GHG emissions, although most did not necessarily recognise their actions in relation to climate change and were simply following good farming practice. Among farmers who reported taking some mitigation action, maintaining or integrating new trees and hedge planting into the farm was the most commonly reported option (28%); while growing leguminous crops (primarily clover swards) and consequently reducing the need for the manufacture of synthetic fertiliser, was a very close second (26%). Increased efficiency of energy, fertilisers and animal husbandry were also rated highly.

The high percentage of farmers in the survey by Dick et al who reported taking action to reduce GHG emissions is very different from, and appears more encouraging than, findings from the Farming Futures survey. However, recruitment to the survey conducted by Dick et al involved approaching farmers at two major agricultural shows (the Royal Highland Show 2010 in Edinburgh and the Great Yorkshire Show 2010 in Harrogate). It could perhaps be argued that farmers attending these events would be more likely to be innovators in relation to emissions reduction, and so may not be representative of the wider farming population. However, findings indicate there is at least a substantial cohort of farmers who are taking actions (whatever their reasons for doing so) and who may be in a position to influence their peers.

Uptake of mitigation measures: messages from the opinion former interviews

Opinion formers were specifically asked why farmers are not taking up mitigation measures which, on paper, would seem to cost them little or nothing, as well as benefiting their businesses. The main issue raised were :

  • Transaction costs (perceived or actual - see Chapter 7).
  • Scepticism about the reliability of the science on climate change, especially that relating to livestock and methane emissions; whether the impact of climate change on the farm will be positive or negative; and what one farm, one region, or even Scotland can do to make a difference (see Chapter 8).

Some interviewees felt that mitigation measures are already being taken up in large numbers. It was generally agreed that renewables initiatives, in particular, are of great interest to farmers. The point was also made that many farmers are taking up measures, but do not connect with climate change mitigation; they are simply adopting good practice principles that make business sense.

Farmer awareness of the Monitor Farm Project

Part of research into the effectiveness of the Monitor Farm Project in Scotland (ADAS, 2008) considered whether farmers who were not directly involved in the project were aware of it and, if so, what were the most influential sources of disseminating knowledge. There were 514 responses to a postal survey of farmers not in the monitor farm group, 78% of whom were aware of the project. However, understanding was much less, with 40% saying their knowledge was good or very good. The most influential source of information was the farming press: 91% of those who had heard of the programme cited this. Other sources were word of mouth (19%); industry news letters, such as SAC, NFU Scotland and Scottish Farmer (19%); and farm advisers/consultants (15%).

6.3 Evidence on uptake of climate change mitigation measures in Scotland

As yet, there is little evidence available that allows uptake of mitigation measures in Scotland to be monitored. However, two recent projects have set out to improve the evidence base. They are both briefly described below.

Analysis of uptake of climate change measures within SRDP Rural Priorities

A recent project conducted by a PhD student during an internship with the Scottish Government report investigated the uptake of climate change options within the Rural Priorities funding mechanism, which is part of the SRDP[22]. The study also explored potential links between applications for funding for climate options and observable characteristics of farms and farmers including in the Scottish Agricultural Census.

Rural Priorities is an integrated funding initiative intended to deliver targeted environmental, social and economic benefits. It is a competitive mechanism to ensure that contracts are awarded for the proposals which are best able to deliver agreed regional priorities. Regional priorities have been established to aid the delivery of the five key outcomes of the SRDP:

  • Business viability and competitiveness
  • Water quality
  • Adaptations to mitigate climate change
  • Biodiversity and landscapes
  • Thriving rural communities.

Applicants have a choice of 132 different options. Options are grouped into packages, and these in turn are assigned to different categories based on their expected outcome. For four of these packages, including a total of 70 options, the outcome is defined as 'climate change.' The packages are:

  • Promoting carbon capture and storage
  • Sustainable flood management
  • Development of renewable energy provision
  • Reducing GHG emissions.

A dataset contains information on all applications from the beginning of the programme (2009). As part of the research, these data were merged with data from the Scottish Agricultural Census in order to investigate links between the (potential) uptake of climate change options and observable farmer characteristics.

At the time the research was conducted (mid-2011) 5,373 farm businesses had applied for funding since the beginning of the programme, (this total relates to all 132 different funding options) and 4,469 of these applications had been accepted. For the purposes of this study, unsuccessful applications were included in the analysis, because the applications in themselves were indicative of farmers' intention to uptake these options.

In relation to climate change, the most popular options included:

  • 'water margins - enhance biodiversity'
  • 'management of wetland'
  • 'management of species rich grassland'
  • 'restructuring agricultural businesses'
  • 'woodland creation - native woodland planting.'

All of these options had received more than 1,000 applications, and the 'water margins' option had received 2,500 applications (many farms applied for a number of different options, from a mix of available packages).

The analysis revealed a relationship between the size of the holding and intention to uptake climate change options: farmers managing larger and more profitable holdings chose to apply for a higher proportion of climate change options. The group of farmers who applied for funding, but did not apply for any climate change options, was characterised by smaller farm size and lower profitability per hectare. This is in line with previous studies which showed that larger farms are more likely to adopt environmental measures (for example, Willock et al, 1999a).

Comparison across sectors revealed that dairy farms had a higher uptake and livestock grazing farms had a lower uptake of climate change options. The farm types 'specialist poultry' and 'other' applied for a higher than average proportion of climate change options. This pattern is similar to that reported in the Farming Futures survey discussed earlier the chapter.

The analysis also made comparisons across regions, which indicated that farm businesses in Argyll, Grampian, Northern Isles and Outer Hebrides applied for fewer climate change options. Farm holdings in Borders, Clyde Valley, Forth, Highlands, Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway, on the other hand, had a relatively high uptake of climate change options. A good deal more information would be required to allow meaningful interpretation of the range of factors affecting uptake, but it is likely that the type of land restricts the number and type of climate change options that are open to farmers.

Although this small study has made some interesting observations by analysing uptake of climate change options through the Rural Priorities initiative, a number of caveats need to be borne in mind. First, it cannot be assumed that farmers adopt 'climate change' options because they are concerned about climate change, or even oriented towards environmental stewardship. On average, the 'climate change' options are more profitable than the other options. Therefore, it is likely that many farmers wished to take up these options for financial reasons, with little or no specific consideration of the environment. Second, it was difficult to make a decision about which options to include in the analysis. Although just four packages have an outcome defined as 'climate change,' there are many other packages that would be likely to contribute towards climate change mitigation (such as 'reducing diffuse pollution' and 'reducing losses of nitrates').

The main strength of the research was its attempt to link the Rural Priorities dataset with data from the Scottish Agricultural Census. The analysis did reveal that some external factors such as size of farm, sector and region all have an influence on farms' uptake of climate change options. Collection of more detailed data would allow the issue to be explored more thoroughly and firmer conclusions to be drawn about the wider range of variables the literature suggests will be linked with adoption of environmental measures.

Monitoring the implementation of Farming for a Better Climate and associated greenhouse gas emissions reductions

To assess progress towards emissions targets at a national level, the SG needs to be able to monitor the implementation of GHG mitigation measures and anticipate the extent to which emissions from agriculture are being reduced. In 2011, work was commissioned by the SG to scope out the data needs for monitoring the implementation of FFBC and associated GHG emissions reductions, in order to understand the extent to which management practices are changing in line with FFBC recommended actions (ADAS, 2011).

The specific requirements of the study suggested a method base upon:

  • Identifying pathways to GHG emissions reductions, linking specific actions to emissions reductions
  • Identifying indicators capturing key elements of the logic chain from inputs (such as uptake of specific measures or actions) to outcomes
  • Assessing data requirements for the indicators and how data might be captured (availability and reporting frequency) including identification of data gaps and solutions.

The authors noted that the mitigation measures incorporated in the FFBC programme are, in general, designed to optimise production (i.e. reduce GHG emissions per unit of production). However, a small number of the measures could have negative impacts on food production and simply lead to GHG emissions being exported elsewhere. Other measures, that target livestock emissions, would be expected to improve productivity and potentially expand food production. The research assumed that farms would only be expected to take forward measures where they make sense in terms of the business objectives of the farm.

The ability of existing data sources to provide sufficient information to monitor both uptake of the measure and the major GHG abatement were classified into Green (wholly sufficient); Amber (available data go some way towards providing all the necessary information); and Red (available data are not thought to be at all sufficient). The research 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, in that the majority of traffic lights are amber. Three ways of improving the capacity to monitor the impact of the FFBC programme were suggested:

  • Tracking farm practice activity - through a more regular farm practice survey, covering a multitude of requirements from different policy areas to ensure value for money and limit the burden on farmers
  • Improving the robustness of the emissions factors related to such activity - work is already underway to improve the UK Agricultural GHG Inventory data, with a number of projects due to report over the next two to four years
  • Attribution of the emissions changes to FFBC - there are multiple drivers to changes in farm practice, including uptake of GHG-reducing mitigation measures, and it is difficult to isolate impacts from single drivers. Given that the FFBC programme is focusing on the most cost effective of mitigation measures (i.e. those expected to contribute to the financial viability of a farm that implements them) such measures might be expected to be implemented by those seeking to improve profitability. ADAS suggested that one way of assessing the FFBC programme contribution to changes in agricultural emissions could be to survey a group of farmers who have been exposed to the scheme, and a group who have not; in order to tease out differences in uptake between the two groups over time (ADAS, 2011).

The SG is currently considering the findings from the work carried out by ADAS, and the suggestions made by the researchers for improving the capacity to monitor the impact of the FFBC programme. The complexities associated with attribution mean that it is likely that the focus of ongoing work will be on improving data on farm practice activity.

Key points from the literature

  • Awareness of climate change issues - recent research conducted in Scotland and England has indicated a poor 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 tracking 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, and the difference that one farm, or even one country is able to make).

Contact

Email: Angela Morgan