New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2022) 46(1): 3468

Understanding farmer behaviour: A psychological approach to encouraging pro-biodiversity actions on-farm

Research Article
Bruce Small 1*
Fleur J. F. Maseyk 2
  1. 20 Rawlings St., Hamilton 3206, New Zealand
  2. The Catalyst Group, 1 Queens Wharf, PO Box 1048, Wellington 6140, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

Understanding farmer behaviour and drivers for behaviour change will be the key to bringing about practice change, such as increasing management and enhancement of native biodiversity on-farm. Farmer participation in biodiversity protection and management is a critical challenge for both national conservation outcomes and achieving more sustainable farm systems. Enhancing native biodiversity provides a mechanism for increasing the sustainability of food and fibre production, mitigation of environmental emissions, and enhancing the resilience of farm systems to weather events and the impacts of climate change. We surveyed 500 sheep and beef farmers throughout New Zealand using a survey explicitly based on the dominant psychological model of volitional behaviour, the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB). Farmers’ attitudes, perception of social norms, control beliefs, moral obligation, and perceived private-public benefit, regarding the protection and management of native biodiversity on-farm, were investigated. We used a combination of descriptive statistics, correlation analyses, and TPB regression modelling of the survey data to understand past pro-biodiversity behaviour and future intentions to implement pro-biodiversity behaviours on-farm. We found that sheep and beef farmers saw (1) greater public than private benefit resulting from the protection and management of native biodiversity on-farm; (2) belief in the efficacy of specific biodiversity behaviours has a stronger relationship with actual behaviour than intentional behaviour; and (3) planning for pro-biodiversity behaviours, such as in a farm planning process, increases farmer pro-biodiversity behaviour. We conclude there is a need to increase farmer understanding of pro-biodiversity practices and outcomes for both farmer private and public benefit and the removal and dissolution of perceived barriers and constraints preventing more pro-biodiversity behaviour on-farm. Based on this research, we recommend that policy initiatives should be targeted at (1) illustrating and communicating the multiple values of native biodiversity to farm systems and farming enterprises (private benefit), and to ecosystem function and New Zealand’s conservation objectives as a whole (public benefit); (2) the specific areas operating as behavioural controls on pro-biodiversity behaviour, and (3) integrating native biodiversity considerations into farm planning processes.