Changing one's farming system can be a massive risk and emotionally taxing and a recent study that was a collaboration between United States and Australian researchers found that what was often missing was access to peer support to help farmers get through the period of adjustment.
The study was led by Dr Hannah Gosnell, Oregon State University, US, with support from researchers Associate Professor Nick Gill and Dr Michelle Voyer of the University of Wollongong and focused on the experience of embracing the concept of regenerative agriculture by landholders.
The findings were published in the November 2019 edition of the Global Environmental Change.
Titled "Transformational adaptation on the farm: Process of change and persistence in transitions to 'climate-smart' regenerative agriculture", the study reported the expectation of success through adopting principles of regenerative agriculture WHICH presented farmers with various challenges, but those who embraced the concepts found it intensely rewarding and fulfilling.
The study recorded the experiences of 28 farmers mostly across NSW, each of whom looked to regenerative agriculture as a way of improving their farming business and lifestyle, often following a disastrous event.
While previous studies have focused on the economic and technical challenges of transitioning to regenerative agriculture practices, this new study invokes the social and emotional journey each farming family made.
"It is not looking at things like what drives people economically, but rather at some of those subjective aspects, the emotional things that lead people to consider regenerative agriculture and then to stick with," Professor Gill said.
It is not looking at things like what drives people economically, but rather at some of those subjective aspects, the emotional things that lead people to consider regenerative agriculture and then to stick with- Professor Nick Gill, University of Wollongong
He is the Deputy Director of the Australian Centre for Culture, Environment, Society and Space in UOW's School of Geography and Sustainable Communities and came to the study of the effect of regenerative agriculture from his interest in the long term stewardship of our land.
"The business of agriculture is facing a whole range of challenges including climate change and soil degradation and many farmers are looking at transforming their practices," Professor Gill said.
"Regenerative agriculture provides a model for that transformation to occur."
He noted that change can be difficult but there are mechanisms which exist to support those who take the steps towards realising a new direction.
"They are revisiting their identity as a farmer and what that means in exposing your vulnerability," he said.
"And regardless of what may be thought about the transfer to a regenerative agriculture approach, there are support processes providing space for people to show they are vulnerable and want confirmation of the steps they are taking."
The stories are important and the various conversations crucial in underlying landholders attempts at the 'paradigm shift' in their farming approach and taking them back to the fundamental question ... why am I doing this?
"They start to see their land differently and to think about it in terms of its natural capital, the nature of its soil and plants and how that relates to them and their enterprise," Professor Gill said.
The study found evidence of the emotional cost that came with the upheaval of change, especially for those with a sense of the traditional but with a need to change.
"It means going out on a limb socially and culturally," Professor Gill said.
"For someone in a farming community, saying there's a different way to be a farmer means you're going against the grain.
"We found that it's often those overlooked subjective and emotional aspects of the process that are vital like finding new sources of peer support and emotional support to carry you through and stick with it, because changing your farming system is a massive risk."
ABOUT THE STUDY
"Transformational adaptation on the farm: Processes of change and persistence in transitions to 'climate-smart' regenerative agriculture", by Hannah Gosnell, Nicholas Gill and Michelle Voyer, is published in Global Environmental Change.
The research was supported by the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station,
Portland, Oregon, USA; and the Australian Centre for Culture, Environment, Society and Space, University of Wollongong, Australia.
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