AbstractsBusiness Management & Administration

Conversations with Farmers: Agri-cultural practice change and the 'eco-innovator'

by Rebecca Cross

Institution: University of New South Wales
Department: Institute of Environmental Studies
Year: 2015
Keywords: practice change; agro-ecology; innovation; socio-cultural dimensions; farming sub-cultures
Record ID: 1067117
Full text PDF: http://handle.unsw.edu.au/1959.4/54471


'Conversations with Farmers' opens a reservoir of information regarding the past, present and future face of farming in Australia by documenting the first-hand experiences of farmers across a region of NSW. Whilst covering a spectrum of issues that affect contemporary farming, the mythological image of the 'innovative' farmer emerged from within the farming sub-culture. This thesis documents the ‘eco-innovator's’ change journey into regenerative farming practice, and ultimately, a new story for agriculture. The future of farming in Australia requires the integration of production and conservation, via eco-innovation, for sustainable farming systems to be realised. Sustainable change requires farmers to adapt their practices to local environmental conditions and instil conservation into their decision-making processes. The concepts of change and control have been utilised to frame the focus of this thesis; transforming farming practice requires personal transformations. The frontrunner in this change process is known as the 'innovator'. 'Who' an innovator is and whether they embody sustainable agriculture is defined and debated in contrasting tones by academics and agriculturalists alike. This research, via a participatory rural appraisal and a micro-ethnographic study, identified then (re)defined peer and self-acknowledged ‘eco-innovators’ who were practicing successful, regenerative and adaptive farming techniques in NSW. Eco-innovators in this particular landscape were proponents of Holistic Management, Grazing for Profit, and Biodynamics, as well as other farmer-driven movements. These innovators were championing certain integrative practices, including regeneration of native grasses, adaptive/strategic grazing, and pasture cropping/no-kill cropping. These eco-innovators were ultimately redefined by their journeys of change, which navigated from a traditional/productivist paradigm to a 'new', alternative paradigm. Their experiences were shaped by major transitions in management and practice, as well as emotional, psychological and philosophical changes. Eco-innovators also discussed the socio-cultural, economic and environmental benefits of their current farming practices, and the role that irrationality, intuition and creativity played in their transformations. In most cases, these innovators were part of a network, or community of practice, of other innovators, consultants and independent scientists. In tandem with the regeneration of the land, this community of eco-innovators was also experiencing a revitalisation of their passion for farming and the traditions of the farming sub-culture, including succession planning and a strong sense of active stewardship. Eco-innovators realigned their locus of control by developing interdependent relationships with farm externalities, and employed a philosophy of diversity to generate choice. This research argues that eco-innovators who are achieving results are a valuable resource for both researchers and extension professionals, and have a vital role to…