Dairy farmers' responses to water quality interventions : a case study in the Manawatu-Wanganui region of New Zealand : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Agriculture and Environment, Palmerston North, New Zealand
New Zealand freshwater quality has declined, and dairy farming is one identified contributor to this decline. This research provides insight into dairy farmers responses to the water quality interventions introduced to mitigate diffuse pollution, and the socio-cultural dynamics that shaped their responses. Putnam’s (2000) social capital theory was the theoretical framework used to explore how and why New Zealand dairy farmers responded to water quality interventions and the role of social capital in shaping dairy farmers’ responses. A single qualitative case-study research design was undertaken in one Water Management Zone of the Manawatu-Wanganui Region. Data was drawn from semi-structured interviews with dairy farmers and key informants, and from documents.
Farmer response is identified as a multi-dimensional rather than a uni-dimensional phenomenon. The dairy farmers responded to water quality interventions as individuals and collectively, and these responses were linked and interwoven. Individual farmer awareness and understanding, emotion and behaviour changed. Collectively, resistance, social learning, formation of a farmer-led action group and changes in accepted farming practices occurred. In addition, social interactions through social networks, trust, social norms and being a ‘good’ farmer that uses ‘best’ farm practice (farmer identity) emerged as key influencers of the dairy farmers’ individual and collective responses to water quality interventions.
The socially constructed collective agreements on accepted behaviour, or cultural, personal and practice norms, influenced farmers’ individual and collective responses to interventions. The identified cultural norms associated with private property ownership, equity and fairness, social responsibility and relationships, and personal norms associated with the stewardship of land and water, reflected the farming culture of the farmers interviewed and the broader group to which they belong. A broad collective change in what farmers believe are the expected farm management practices around farming and water quality (practice norms) influenced individual farm practice change. In addition, informal farmer sanctioning of practice norm violation was found to be a key part of the process by which farm practices that had a negative effect on water quality were challenged, and new practice norms were fostered. The collective farmer resistance to regulation and the actions of a farmer-led collective action group were in fact resistance to an intervention that was perceived to challenge their social norms, their identity as ‘good farmers’
and to disregard their local knowledge; not resistance to practice changes that will improve water quality.
Dairy farm management practice change is a social process of exchanging information and knowledge, questioning, challenging current practice and reinforcing what is considered accepted practice around farming and water quality. This understanding provides a valuable contribution to the design and implementation of environmental policy interventions.