Factors Influencing Pastoral Farmers' Land-use Change Decisions in Response to Environmental Regulations in the Selwyn District, Canterbury
In recent years, the pressure placed on New Zealand farmers to reduce their environmental impact and convert to more sustainable land-uses has significantly increased in response to public and political concerns. This has seen an increase in the amount and complexity of environmental regulations, particularly for farmers in the Selwyn District, Canterbury. Increasing environmental regulations has contributed to an unintended side effect of a declining relationship quality between farmers and regulatory authorities.
This study provides a new way for regulatory authorities to understand which factors influence pastoral farmers’ land-use change decisions and how these factors interact in response to environmental regulations. A total of nine pastoral farmers operating in the Selwyn District were interviewed to obtain data on how they made land-use change decisions and the impact of environmental regulations on these. Specifically, the data involved the collection of Q-sort scores, centrality scores, and the creation of causal maps.
This study found that financial factors were the most important to pastoral farmers when making land-use change decisions. However, these financial factors were strongly connected to farmers’ sense of certainty around policy and practice. Many farmers felt unsure about the impact of current and future policy and practice changes on their farms. Subsequently, they felt hesitant to make land-use change decisions without the confidence that it will remain a financially and strategically viable choice for the longer term.
This study also found that farmers had high intrinsic values surrounding environmental stewardship. Contrarily, environmental regulations drive land-use change decisions in an extrinsic form to farmers. This difference is concerning because if farmers become too focused on only doing what is required to meet regulations, it risks taking away the common-sense approach farmers already have. Overall, without improvements in the communication between regulatory authorities and farmers, the future may see increased focus by farmers on ticking boxes and less on strategically thinking about what is best for the environment.
In summary, improved understanding by regulatory authorities and actions resulting from this will greatly contribute to positive environmental outcomes being reached in an efficient manner. To encourage sustainable land-use change, regulatory authorities need to give increased thought on how future regulations are created and implemented long-term. Farmers will feel more confident to transition to more sustainable land-uses with increased certainty around policy and practice and regulations that are introduced to them in a way that better understands their role as environmental stewards.
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