Academic journal article Rural Society

Key Influences on the Adoption of Improved Land Management Practice in Rural Australia: The Role of Attitudes, Values and Situation

Academic journal article Rural Society

Key Influences on the Adoption of Improved Land Management Practice in Rural Australia: The Role of Attitudes, Values and Situation

Article excerpt


As pressures on environmental systems increase, the need for sustainable land management practice in dryland agriculture grows. Nowhere is this more pressing than in areas experiencing ongoing environmental distress. The importance of sustainable, pro-environmental practices is heightened during periods of environmental distress, such as drought, but these very conditions can prevent landholders from undertaking initia- tives that may have been feasible in better conditions. Two studies undertaken with dryland (i.e. non-irrigated) agriculture communities in the Lachlan catchment area of central New South Wales (NSW) are detailed in this paper. The role of landholder attributes and values in the adoption of environmentally sustainable land management practice are explored in the context of long-term drought. Understanding these processes will become vital as the impacts of climate change place increasing stress on agricultural communities worldwide.

Previous research indicates successful adoption of sustainable land management practice is complex and based on a wide variety of environmental, social, economic, cultural and psychological considerations (Pannell et al., 2006; Seymour et al., 2010; Shiferaw, Okello & Reddy, 2009). Farmer attributes have significant influence over their land management practice and engagement in environmental programs. These attributes include age, financial, and environmental concern, along with the relative advantage of different technologies, farm size, degradation of property and formal farm planning (Atari et al., 2009; Cary, Webb & Barr, 2002; Crase & Mayberry, 2002). In addition to a well-documented set of economic factors, a range of attitudinal factors, beliefs and self-concepts has also been identified as important for the adoption of sustainable land management practice (e.g. Burton & Wilson, 2006; Leviston et al., 2005). Research suggests the interplay between socio-cultural circumstances and prevailing environmental conditions influences the likelihood of adopting sustainable land management practice (Bayard & Jolly, 2007; Rodriguez et al., 2009).

It is hypothesised here that a relatively small number social-psychological attributes and values can be used to predict the likelihood of farmers adopting land management practice in line with recommendations from organisations responsible for natural resource management. Values can be thought of as concepts and beliefs about desirable goals that guide selection or evaluation of behaviours (Schwartz & Bilsky, 1987), while attributes refer to an individual's inherent internal psychological traits. We suggest these attributes interact with the environmental and sociohistorical circumstances farmers experience. The attributes and values hypothesised as influencing adoption of sustainable land management practice under conditions of environmental stress are described in the following sections.

Environmental values

The relationship between environmental values and behaviour has been studied extensively in the social sciences (DeGroot & Steg, 2007). Environmental values are important beliefs or feelings about our relationship with the natural world (Mayer & Frantz, 2004). Farmers' values about the environment influence their environmental behaviours (Napier & Brown, 1993), adoption of conservation practices (Carlson et al., 1994) and participation in land regeneration programs (Defrancesco et al., 2008; Luzar & Diagne, 1999; Wilcock et al., 1999). Research suggests that the adoption of agricultural technologies, such as conservation tillage, is influenced by awareness of environmental threats, such as erosion and poor soil health (Gould, Saupe & Klemme, 1989; Napier & Camboni, 1993; Vignola et al., 2010).

Drawing on Stern and Dietz' (1994) valuebasis theory of environmental attitudes, a body of research has identified two distinct values relating to the natural environment. …

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