Home Institution

University of Richmond

Publication Date

Spring 2006

Program Name

Australia: Sustainability and the Environment


This study examines why farmers in Northern New South Wales, Australia do or do not convert to organic farming from conventional farming practices. Organic agriculture provides a production alternative that may be environmentally and nutritionally beneficial. Because the structural settings of economy and society influence decision-making on an individual basis at the farm level, discussions of policy must consider why farmers do, or do not, convert to organic farming. Ultimately, the successfulness of a policy depends on the effectiveness of motivating individual action. A hierarchical decision tree was created using ethnographic decision tree modeling. Elimination criteria, motivational criteria, and constraints to conversion were identified from ethnographic interviews with organic and conventional farmers. These criteria were arranged into a decision tree. A survey consisting of these criteria was administered to a different sample of conventional and organic farmers, and the results were used to evaluate the predictive validity of the decision tree. The decision tree classified 95 participants with 88.42% accuracy; this is above the 80% accuracy threshold for satisfactory models. The greatest benefit of the ethnographic decision modeling method is a rejection of structural determinism. The tree shows that structural factors in and of themselves don’t determine farmer behavior; it’s the constructs of each individual, his or her values and priorities, that shape the decision. Structural factors are mediated by the actor’s perception, and are considered only if perceived to be decisive. This is an optimistic and exciting finding for proponents of organic farming. Many structural factors are impossible to change, but personal constructs are open to revision; the organic farming movement must not move mountains, only minds.


Agricultural and Resource Economics | Environmental Health and Protection


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