Gritty optimism: How farmers survive tough times

In the midst of the worst drought in living memory, what motivates a farmer to stay on the land?

A University of Southern Queensland (USQ) study into decision making in the Australian cotton industry has delved into that question – finding that for many producers it boils down to ”gritty optimism.”

Researcher and farmer Dr Geraldine (Gerry) Wunsch said growers faced enormous amounts of stress caused by factors out of their control.

“It’s a tough job, especially the variability in weather when forecasts on a Monday deplete to virtually nothing by a Friday,” Dr Wunsch said.

“It’s a difficult balancing act of operational decisions in the face of shifting economic, environmental and social factors as many entrepreneurs know full well.

“The aim of this study was to understand cotton grower motivation and to establish what factors influence grower decision-making processes and impact their decisions.”

Dr Wunsch said there was great excitement about helping to unlock the maze of decision-making in a proactive, rather than a reactive, way.

“Primary producers have been involved in self-imposed regulatory frameworks for some time, which can provide specific parameters that help with decision-making,” she said.

Further to this, Dr Wunsch’s research also explored a different kind of influence on behaviour and choice - automatic and conscious biases.

 The research, funded by the Cotton Research & Development Corporation (CRDC), used face-to-face interviews and a national survey of cotton growers.

“Behavioural economics is a new approach to decision-making in agriculture, and the study has the potential to help industry stakeholders: growers, service providers and government policy-makers.”

Cracked river bed
“It’s a tough job, especially the variability in weather when forecasts on a Monday deplete to virtually nothing by a Friday” - Dr Wunsch.