Report Synopsis

Farming in a Pressure Cooker: How pressure impacts farmer decision making

Corrigan Sowman

Executive Summary
Across the world, pressure on our planet’s ecosystems is forcing society to “rethink” many of our
everyday activities. Technology change is raising questions about where and how food can be
produced, and the morality of food production.
Agriculture is at a crossroads; past practices are no longer seen as acceptable, often scrutinised by people with half the facts. The result of this situation is farmers are under pressure. They have more to respond to than there is time, money, or that current technology allows. For some, they are overwhelmed, and this is reflected in their mental wellbeing.
The purpose of this study has been to better understand how the pressure that farmers are experiencing impacts on their decisions making? These decisions underpin how the food is produced, and that is important to society, especially for countries such as New Zealand that rely on the prosperity earnt through exporting food.
This study used a four-part process called double diamond design (Banathy, 1996) to complete a broad international investigation into pressure and its effects on the farmer. The aim, to connect how farmers’ thinking is influenced by the pressure around them.
Pressure is described using five factors of uncertainty, high stakes, small margins, fast changes and judgement (Evans, 2019).
Historically farmers have managed pressure well through a multitude of management practices. This has provided them a degree of comfort despite their limited control of the biological systems they operate, systems heavily influenced by external factors such as trade. Growth through productivity has offset falling margins. But if growth is constrained through changing regulation and customer pressure, how do farmers adapt?
This study has explored the psychological factors surrounding thinking under pressure and proposed the use of a model to highlight the need for new skillsets that support accepting challenge over reaction to threat. Farmers are conditioned to recognise threat, often interlinked to their sense of purpose and identity.
How the brain responds to threat is important in understanding how best to facilitate practice change in agriculture. This report recommends a need to place the concept of pressure at the centre of future practice change in agriculture. It suggests new skills in thinking under pressure need to be fostered in farmers to underpin performance in a long-term pressure environment. It draws on the science of thinking under pressure and examples already available in New Zealand to highlight that branding food around origin in the future will rely on investing in the thinking skills of those producing it.

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