Regenerative agriculture and farmer wellbeing

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Regenerative agriculture (RA) is a farming system that is growing in popularity worldwide. One of the benefits argued to result from adopting RA is improved wellbeing of the farmer, however, few studies have explicitly examined wellbeing as an outcome of RA. In this thesis by publication, I begin to address this gap in knowledge by examining whether there is an observable association between adopting RA and higher farmer wellbeing and exploring some of the potential processes and pathways involved, using cross-sectional data from the 2015, 2016 and 2018 Regional Wellbeing Survey (RWS). The RWS is an Australian-wide annual survey, and data collected from full-time farmers were analysed to examine the following research questions: 1) Can measures of subjective wellbeing be used to assess social dimensions of agricultural sustainability? 2) What are suitable measures of engagement in RA that enable assessment of wellbeing outcomes? 3) Is engaging in RA associated with improved farmer wellbeing? 4) Is there evidence for the presence of two commonly hypothesised pathways between RA and farmer wellbeing: (i) Improved wellbeing through encouraging implementation of on-farm practices designed to support landscape health? (ii) Improved wellbeing via increased farming self-efficacy? The first question was examined in the published journal paper presented in Chapter 5. Data from a sample of full-time Australian graziers drawn from the 2015 RWS (n= 866), was analysed assessing the relationship between RA and different measures of SWB. Findings suggest SWB measures are sufficiently sensitive to provide meaningful insight into the wellbeing impacts of different agricultural systems, supporting the case for inclusion of such measures in assessing the social dimensions of agricultural sustainability. The second question was examined by testing an existing measure of RA in Chapter 5, and using this to develop new measures informed by the literature and interviews with RA farmers. The new measures were then tested in research conducted in Chapters 6 and 7. As multiple and often differing measures of RA are found in the literature, and no consensus on a single measure exists, a more in-depth exploration of the common elements of RA principles was examined through an exploratory factor analysis (EFA) in Chapter 6. Here two core types of RA principles were identified and tested: holistic planning and monitoring, and prioritising landscape regeneration. Results found it distinguished well between farmers and was sufficiently sensitive to be used to identify differences between RA and non-RA farmers. Importantly, it was found to be broad enough to capture farmers who may have differing interpretations of RA which is important for measuring the association RA has with farmer wellbeing outcomes. The third question was examined in analyses presented in all three results chapter: a significant relationship between RA and SWB was found in all analyses, with consistency across three different cross-sectional samples, different measures of RA and different measures of SWB. Adoption of RA was found not be associated with measures of illbeing, supporting the notion that wellbeing and illbeing are two separate (but correlated) constructs. Findings from Chapters 5 to 7 suggested that RA has a similar strength of association with hedonic, eudaimonic and evaluative wellbeing, although Chapter 5 did find that RA was more strongly associated with eudaimonic wellbeing compared to other measures. My fourth question examined whether there was evidence for the presence of two commonly hypothesised pathways by which RA may influence farmer wellbeing: (i) through the implementation of on-farm practices designed to improve landscape health, and (ii) via improving increased farming self-efficacy. The first hypothesised pathway is examined in the published journal paper presented in Chapter 7 which examines tree planting as an on-farm conservation practice based on a sample of Australian full-time farmers from the 2018 RWS (n=604). Only social connectedness had an independent relationship with tree-planting, and no independent relationship was found for psychological distress and PWI. In contrast, implementing RA principles was associated with improved wellbeing. Finally, the mediation effect of farming self-efficacy in explaining the relationship between RA principles and farmer wellbeing is examined in the published journal paper presented in Chapter 6. Findings showed that the positive relationship between “prioritising landscape regeneration” and all subjective wellbeing measures were significantly mediated by farming self-efficacy, while no effect was shown for “prioritising landscape regeneration”. The wellbeing of the farmer is central to achieving sustained adoption of changes practices on the farm. This thesis shows that engaging in RA is associated with slightly but significantly higher wellbeing when compared to those farming using less regenerative approaches, and that this increase is likely to in part result from a gain cycle in which improved self-efficacy supports higher wellbeing, which in turn further supports ability to build self-efficacy. Further, this research shows it is possible to develop measures of RA principles that can be used in quantitative research, complimenting the existing qualitative research on this topic. My findings also highlight multiple additional areas for future research to better understand pathways by which adopting RA may support farmer wellbeing.
    Date of Award2023
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorJacki Schirmer (Supervisor) & Penney Upton (Supervisor)

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