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

Cross, Rebecca, Institute of Environmental Studies, Faculty of Science, UNSW


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  • Title:
    Conversations with Farmers: Agri-cultural practice change and the 'eco-innovator'
  • Author/Creator/Curator: Cross, Rebecca, Institute of Environmental Studies, Faculty of Science, UNSW
  • Subjects: practice change; agro-ecology; innovation; socio-cultural dimensions; farming sub-cultures
  • Resource type: Thesis
  • Type of thesis: Ph.D.
  • Date: 2015
  • Supervisor: Robinson, Daniel, Institute of Environmental Studies, Faculty of Science, UNSW; Ampt, Peter, Institute of Environmental Studies, Faculty of Science, UNSW; Sammut, Jes, Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science, UNSW
  • Language: English
  • Permissions: This work can be used in accordance with the Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license.
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  • Description: '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 play in motivating and supporting widespread practice change within agricultural innovation systems. Recognising that 'farmers' are 'innovators' is fundamental to reframing agricultural issues and finding resolutions which fine-tune the integration of conservation and production. This thesis ultimately acts as a beacon for local farming knowledge, offering crucial insights into the revolutions needed to sustain the family farm, rural communities, rural landscapes and a national food production system to nourish current and future generations.

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