The six habits of resilient farmers: study

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David Gray

- By Nicole Baxter

Farmers who have the capacity to run a profitable business amid challenging circumstances such as increased seasonal variability tend to have common characteristics, the 5th World Congress on Conservation Agriculture was told.

David Gray, a development officer with the Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia (DAFWA), studied the business behaviours of resilient farmers in WA and identified six common characteristics:

  • scanning the business environment for opportunities, changes, trends;
  • engaging in contingency planning;
  • building flexibility into the business;
  • actively building relationships with others including growers, agronomists, suppliers; and
  • continually experimenting and making innovations.

His GRDC-supported research looked at four businesses that were well adapted to withstand the challenges posed by changing climatic conditions.

The first characteristic common to all was the practice of scanning the business environment for changes, trends, emerging opportunities or threats. Mr Gray said this meant being in touch with what was happening at the business level (prices, costs, demand shifts and supply chain issues); within the environment (weather and climate, biodiversity, invasive species, soil health and salinity); at the social level (community attitudes towards animal welfare; GM, organic or ‘green’ products; or the community’s desire for local produce); and being across government regulation.

He said such farmers engaged in contingency planning to identify potential disruptions (flood, drought, rust outbreak) to cope with realistic scenarios. For example, if the seasonal break had not occurred by a certain date, resilient farmers would dry-seed paddocks with low weed burdens and other paddocks were dropped from production.

They also built flexibility into their business. Mr Gray said one example was having the capacity to make last-minute changes to the crop varieties according to when the season breaks. Another example might be to incorporate crops and livestock. “The relative prices for grain, meat and wool have shuffled about in recent years,” he said. “Having farming systems that can take advantage of these relative changes is important.”

Resilient farmers actively built supportive and trusting relationships with fellow farmers, suppliers, agronomists, consultants, researchers, family members and employees.

Another feature of resilient farmers was that they continually innovated and experimented in small ways to test if a new product or farming method would work for them. Mr Gray said this was about building knowledge and experiences with alternative enterprises or modifications to existing enterprises.

“Small on-farm tests allow larger-scale changes to be adopted when necessary,” he said. “For example, resilient farmers experiment with drought-tolerant varieties, or test whether their farm can sustain summer-growing plants so they know what options are available for drier winters and wetter summers should they occur.”

In addition, resilient farmers were part of a family business with shared goals and values. Mr Gray said this was about all members of the farming family, and employees, taking the time to build a shared understanding about what would be achieved, by when, and how.

IMAGE CAPTION: David Gray. Photo: Nicole Baxter


More information:

David Gray, 08 9821 3333,

Region West