‘Gut feeling’ drives on-farm decisions in rural NSW

Five people standing outside of a building.

New research has found many farmers in the Central West region of NSW trust their intuition, or “gut feeling”, when it comes to making important decisions on their properties.

The report, Agriculture in Central West NSW: Rural Landholder Social Benchmarking Report 2022, is part of the Soil CRC national farmer project, Surveying On-Farm Practices, led by Dr Hanabeth Luke from Southern Cross University. The survey was developed together with local groups Central West Farming Systems and Local Land Services Central West.

It provides insight into the values, beliefs, norms and practices relating to farming in the partner local areas of Bland, Blayney, Cabonne, Cowra, Forbes, Lachlan, and Parkes, gleaned from 525 questionnaire responses.

More than half are full-time farmers (55 per cent), with 19 per cent part-time farmers and 18 per cent hobby farmers. They use their land for pastures (60 per cent), sheep (59 per cent), beef (52 per cent) and cereal cropping (47 per cent).

Taking a risk (or not)

The farmers’ responses revealed they are open to new ideas about land management.

However, many said they could not afford to take risks and experiment, while 70 per cent of respondents said they wouldn’t take a risk if their intuition, or “gut feeling”, said no.

“Nearly a third of landholders indicate that their farm is doing fine the way things are and see no reason to change, which correlates negatively with best practice implementation,” Dr Luke said.

“Half of the farmers were interested in learning more about regenerative farming approaches, with many highlighting the need to adapt to climate change and to take such actions as ‘drought-proofing the farm’.

Barriers, issues and future challenges

The top three current issues for farmers in the region are:

  • Water holding capacity of soils
  • Declining soil health and/or soil productivity
  • Absence of important services and infrastructure.

However, in the next 10 years, farmers believe climate change will be the biggest factor for them to consider, linked to issues such as seasonal variability, drought and water storage.

“Nearly two thirds of respondents agreed that human activities influence our changing climate, and that landholders in the region should do all they can to reduce carbon emissions,” Dr Luke explains.

“More than half of all respondents agree that climate change will have dire consequences if nothing is done, and that fundamental changes are required to make the region’s farming systems resilient.

Succession, including retirement and health issues, are also common concerns, along with financial challenges and debt.

What do farmers want and need?

When asked broadly about what innovations would support their farm management goals, farmers said they would like more information about regenerative farming and soil management; accurate and long-range weather forecasts, drones and data systems.

Reliable internet was listed as a significant barrier to farming operations, and farmers indicated they would support rural agricultural organisations in lobbying for improved communications.

SCU researcher and Soil CRC Project Leader, Dr Hanabeth Luke, said the responses received from farmers in the Central West region of NSW can help industry groups and governments provide more targeted support to landholders in the region.

This is one of six surveys being conducted across Australia to help give the Soil CRC and other stakeholders are comprehensive view of farmer attitudes and practices.

Agriculture in Central West NSW: Rural Landholder Social Benchmarking Report 2022 is part of the Surveying On-Farm Practices project. The project aims to provide accurate information to support improved soil and land management, and will collate a dataset of national significance. It is led by Dr Luke of Southern Cross University and funded by the funded by the Co-operative Research Centre for High Performance Soils (Soil CRC).

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