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Classifying, Clustering & Clumping; defining groups of irrigators in Australia’s Namoi Valley.

Congress: 2008
Author(s): G. Kuehne(1), H. Bjornlund(1)(2), B. Cheers(1)
(1)University of South Australia, Australia (2)University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada,

Keyword(s): farmers values, cluster analysis, water reforms
AbstractIntroduction The world relies on irrigated agriculture for about 40% of its food output. The growth in the Earth’s population has led to an increasing demand for food and a commensurate increase in demand for the use of water for irrigated agriculture. In Australia a rapid growth in irrigated agriculture has led to tension between competing uses of water. This rivalry has been made tangible by the visible effects on the environment from the over extraction of water. Recognising the need to address these problems, the Australian Government is implementing a series of water reforms. The management of water is, at its core, a people-based activity, but despite this people are rarely acknowledged as being at the centre of the process. Furthermore, when they are actually recognised as being part of the process, their motivations are often mistakenly identified as being economically rational. Objective We contend that irrigators are not homogenous, but exhibit a range of behaviours that are strongly influenced by the values and attitudes that they hold; and that a better understanding of these values and attitudes will lead to better policy design and implementation. We hypothesised that the behaviour of farmers is influenced by their values, attitudes and goals towards family, profit, land, water, lifestyle and community, which in turn determines their management response to new water policies and thereby determines the outcome and impact of such policies. Methods A telephone survey was conducted to gather demographic information as well as information on past and intended management actions in response to a new water sharing plan for Namoi Valley in Australia. It also included a set of value and attitude statements with which the respondents were asked to rate their level of agreement using a one to five Likert-scale. The survey was administered to 121 groundwater licence holders. Analyses was conducted by hierarchical clustering, a technique that progressively merges clusters. The aim was to identify groups of irrigators who shared common values, attitudes and goals and to investigate whether these groups behaved differently with regard to their management of water. Results Four groups emerged from the analysis, Custodians - family oriented, Conservers – value the land and water resource, Conservatives – cautious and stable, and Investors – profit oriented. Each of these groups has different sets of values that appear to contribute to different farm management decisions. Conclusion Water is not just an economic good; because people value it in different ways it also has a social dimension. Water reform programs often seek to encourage community participation or management but without attention to the social side of water creating unintended and sometimes undesirable outcomes The social side of water resource management should not be an after thought; environmental reform policy instruments that recognise the between group variability of farmers are more likely to be adopted by farmers than those that assume rational economic behaviour. By seeking to explain some of the influences on farmers’ behaviour this research adds another perspective to those needing to tailour policy communications to better suit farmers.
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