Risk and Farmers' Decisions to Farm Organically: The Case of Devon (UK)
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Over the past few decades, the organic sector in most developed countries has flourished. Growth in the sector has been paralleled by a substantial amount of research on several arenas (sec Cobb et al. 1999; Robles et al. 2005; Jackson and Lampkin 2008; Lobley et al. 2009c; among others). Reasons for adopting organic farming have been studied in a variety of instances (Padel 2001a). Although there is a considerable body of evidence that supports the distinctly 'risky nature' of organic farming, our identification and understanding of how this nature affects farmers' decisions whether or not to farm organically are limited (see, for example, Lockeretz 1995; Duram 1999; Midmore et al. 2001; Baecke et al. 2002; Hattam 2006). It seems that there has been widespread acceptance of the hypothesis that organic farmers are more likely to be risk-takers compared to non-organic farmers. Similarly, the hypothesis that organic farmers with Non-Farming Backgrounds (NFBs) may have different attitudes towards risk has not been investigated yet through detailed empirical analysis. Accordingly, this thesis seeks to analyse the importance of farmers' willingness to take risk in organic farming in their decisions regarding the adoption of organic farming where it is assumed that there is a link between attitudes and behaviours. The thesis employs a variety of methods: a questionnaire; familiarisation; in-depth interviews; and secondary data. The findings of this thesis suggest that not all sources and types of risks associated with organic farming are differently perceived by non-organic and organic farmers. In Devon (i.e. the study area), more non-organic than organic farmers mentioned the existence of 'farm-related risks' and 'risks related to farmers' belief. Further, 'risks related to financial returns' were perceived to be of concern by non-organic farmers compared to their organic counterparts. On the other hand, other types and sources of risks associated with organic farming were equally perceived to be of concern by both groups. As expected, the recent risky environment of organic farming played a significant role in this respect (see also de Buck et al. 2001; Flaten et al. 2005). The wider environment was moreover the cause of greater concern regarding production, market and institutional risks (as opposed to personal ones) among organic farmers in Devon at the time of the questionnaire survey, when compared to the level of concern at the time of adoption. This shows that perceptions of types and sources of risks associated with organic farming arc subject to change across time (CRER 2002). Compared to their non-organic counterparts, organic farmers in Devon were willing to take risk in organic farming. With regard to risk in farming and to risk in general, more organic farmers expressed risk-taking attitudes than did their non-organic counterparts. Consequently, and based on the main reasons for adoption and non-adoption of organic farming, this thesis suggests that willingness to take risk in organic farming acts as an extremely significant trigger for the uptake of organic fam1ing. This in turn confirn1s what has been emphasised by many researchers (see Baecke et al. 2002; Acs et al. 2005; Serra et al. 2008; among others). It also suggests that investigations into people's behaviours and decisions in relation to a 'risky activity' should take into account their attitudes towards risk in that activity. This thesis, in common with other studies (e.g. Kaltoft 1999; Lobley et al. 2005), also shows evidence of heterogeneity among organic farmers. A small group of organic farmers in Devon from NFBs was in search of the 'good life' and wanted to produce public goods from organic farming. Although technical, market and institutional risks associated with organic farming were of concern to organic farmers from NFBs in this study, these farmers did not have distinct risk perceptions. In contrast, they had distinct attitudes towards risk in organic farming. More organic farmers from NFBs than organic farmers from Farming Backgrounds (FBs) were willing to take risk in organic farming. Finally. and in accordance with Morris and Potter's ( 1995) work, this thesis has placed 79% of surveyed farmers in Devon on a typology which reflects the fact that farmers are not homogeneous. The 'conditional non-organic farmers' and 'pragmatic organic farmers' in this typology may, with varying degrees of ease, switch between organic and nonorganic methods at any point in the future due to possible changes in their attitudes towards risk in organic farming. In contrast, the 'resistant non-organic farmers' and 'committed organic farmers" at the two extremes of this typology will very likely be resistant to changes in their current farming systems. Accordingly, a set of policy recommendations which may help to increase future organic adoption in the UK has been set forth.
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