To plough or not to plough? : an investigation into what influences farmer decision making regarding the adoption of conservation agriculture
Abstract: Agriculture is necessary for providing nutrition to a growing global population. However, many unsustainable agricultural practices contribute to climate change, cause local pollution and disrupt natural biological and nutrient cycles. Conservation agriculture (CA) is one of the many practices that have been proposed to meet the challenge of sustainable agricultural production. CA aims to restore natural systems which help to reduce erosion, chemical reliance, pollution and agricultural emissions whilst improving long-term productivity. Despite CA’s increasing world-wide use, England’s adoption remains low. This study utilizes the theory of planned behaviour to understand what influences English farmers’ decision to either adopt or not adopt CA. Thus, this provides policy makers and other relevant stakeholders with the tools necessary to increase the adoption of CA in English farming. The study combines data from farmer communication, mixed-stakeholder focus groups, engagement with knowledge exchange organizations and an online survey to thoroughly examine farmers’ decisions concerning CA. Of the theory of planned behaviour’s behavioural determinants, attitude was found to be the most important in influencing the adoption of CA. This was predominantly driven by the motivation to improve soil health. Perceived behavioural control was also important for the adoption of no-tillage and crop rotations or companion cropping. This was mainly due to expensive costs, incompatibility with physical conditions and inadequate information. Information on CA was found to lack relevance as most studies are abroad or do not cover a range of soil and climatic conditions, contributing to uncertainty of results. The corporate nature of some data and informal farmer produced information can reduce the unreliability of information. Also, information is not in accessible forms for farmers to easily understand and apply practically. Policy interventions should aim to improve knowledge generation and exchange as well as providing a financial incentive system to reduce fears of unknown productivity for farmers that want to adopt CA. However, stakeholder perceptions of the political environment revealed that policy makers seem to be unaware or uninterested in CA, thus change from the top-down may be unlikely.
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