Farm Table says:
The case of decision making
What is the problem?
In 1788 the first European settlers in Australia brought with them six head of cattle and from this, the beginnings of the cattle industry in Australia has grown to what it is today; a billion dollar industry (ABS, 2005). Whilst changes in practices and technologies have typified and often improved the industry during its history, graziers can be slow to adopt new practices.
The plan of the study were to:
1. report the context of controlled breeding in the region
2. illustrate and figure out the circumstances under which graziers choose, or do not choose, to adopt controlled breeding in terms of (i) available information and (ii) their level of dependency on the grazing resource
3. determine an useful method for disseminating information to the grazier community
What did the research involve?
3.1 Research approach
-In this study both qualitative and quantitative methods were used to elicit as much information as possible to address the objectives of the study. This mixed methods approach is popular amongst social researchers as the quantitative results are useful for identifying patterns and the qualitative results are useful for providing richness to the interpretation of data from the formal survey.
3.2 The study area
-The Upper Burdekin was chosen for this study due to its proximity to Townsville and the relative ease of access to properties in this region.
3.3 Survey development and design
-The survey was designed to quantify and test the influence of (i) financial, social and environmental dependency on the grazing resource, and (ii) various communication strategies, on the decision to practice controlled breeding.
3.4 Selecting respondents
-Respondents were randomly selected from a list of graziers using the Atlas of Queensland and Northern Territory pastoral stations (Alick and Alick, 2006).
3.5 Data collection and analysis
-All data collection was performed between December 2007 and February 2008. The project was promoted during a local media campaign which was used to increase the perceived validity of the project.
3.6 Ethics approval
-Prior to conducting the interview, graziers were asked to sign the ‘informed consent’ form agreeing to the interview and reassurances were given that all information given was confidential and that there would be no way of recognizing any given property or grazier in the final report.
What were the key findings?
4.1 The practice of controlled breeding
4.1.1 General characteristics of the practice in the Upper Burde
-[Fourteen (54%) graziers in the sample practiced controlled breeding in their cattle herds and 12 (46%) did not.
4.1.2 Knowledge of controlled breeding
– Of the graziers who control breed, only one has been using this practice for more than 20 years.
4.1.3 Cattle management techniques
-The cattle management techniques varied for the two groups. Almost half of those who control breed separate the cows by stage of pregnancy whilst none of those who do not control breed do this.
4.1.4 Calving season
-The length of the calving season varied amongst graziers with 4-6 months being the most common length of time.
4.1.5 Discussion of results
-Controlled breeding is not a new practice and is certainly not something that only the younger generations of graziers are undertaking as can be seen by the 8 graziers (30%) in the over 55 age category.
4.2 Social descriptors of resource dependency
4.2.1 Attachment to place
-Many graziers (almost half) had lived on their properties for over 21 years, while only 7 had lived on their property for less than ten years.
– Eighteen graziers (69%) were aged forty years and over with only eight (31%) in the twenty five to thirty nine years category.
4.2.3 Attachment to occupation
-The cattle industry was described as a way to earn a good living and be able to work with your family without the complications of city life.
4.2.4 Education levels
-Education levels varied greatly amongst the respondents with some having attended university, and others leaving school at an early age.
-The formal networks from which graziers receive information were important to them.
4.2.6 Discussion of results
-A major aim of this study was to understand some of the reasons why graziers choose to practice controlled breeding.
4.3 Economic descriptors of resource dependency
4.3.1 Business approach and economic factors
-The business approach taken by graziers varied a great deal; from factors such as the size of the property to debt levels and management plans.
4.3.2 Debt levels
-Debt levels also varied considerably with some graziers having little or no debt (20%) to some other graziers having debts of millions of dollars (15%).
4.3.3 Discussion of results
-Graziers with little or no debt do not feel vulnerable to environmental or economic changes and have the financial stability to maintain the lifestyle they live.
4.4 Environmental descriptors of resource dependency
-A high percentage of graziers (70%) did not feel as if their location prohibited them from attending Landcare or field days etc although eight felt that their location was prohibitive to them attending as the distance was too far.
4.5 A description of targeted media
4.5.1 Communication strategies
-Graziers were asked if they felt whether the information they received was accurate and specific for their situation and the results were almost identical for both groups of breeders and split almost evenly on whether they agreed or disagreed.
4.5.2 Discussion of results
-The graziers in this sample are receptive to change. Though it may not happen quickly, the information does flow from key community members along to others.
4.6 The decision making process
-All graziers were happy with the decision made to adopt controlled breeding and would not change it in the foreseeable future.
4.7 Influences on the control breeding decision making process
4.7.1 The significance of social factors
-The age group with the highest number of graziers who control breed is the 40-50 years age category with 30% as opposed to only 11% of graziers who do not control breed in the same age category.
4.7.2 The significance of economic factors
Financial circumstances -The majority of graziers (89%) said their finances were often the main barrier to implementing change followed by a need (77%) i.e. if there is no need to change then they will not change.
Business approach – Some graziers felt a combination of factors contributed to them not trying new methods.
Business management plans – Variety existed amongst the management plans also; some were in-depth documented items covering the next twenty years but were still living documents adapting as conditions changed (85%), while others had a rough set of notes or a picture in their heads (15%).
Business size – The business size of the surveyed graziers showed no significant differences between the groups of those that do and those that do not control breed with both large and small enterprises in both groups.
Lease conditions – Property tenure varied greatly amongst the respondents.
4.7.3 The influence of environmental factors on decision making
-The environmental factors of resource dependency were tested against the decision to control breed and no significant correlations were detected.
4.7.4 The influence of targeted media on decision making
-The group that chose to control breed trusted the information more than the graziers who did not control breed.
4.7.5 Discussion of results
-The graziers in this sample are receptive to change.
They are generating plans for an array of economic and social reasons. In the context of controlled breeding, graziers appear to be mostly influenced by the local QDPI&F representative, financial circumstances and informal networks.