Sheep farmers need help to become sustainable

16 August 2023 | News

New Zealand sheep farmers might be keen to adopt sustainable practices, but a new Lincoln University study shows they may need some assistance to actually do it.

Are we ready to transition to sustainable sheep production in New Zealand? A critical analysis uses results from a farmer survey to understand how prepared New Zealand sheep farmers are to embrace sustainability.

It identified an attitude–behaviour gap, where positive attitudes towards sustainability transition may not lead to a higher likelihood of adopting sustainability tools.

"Farmers may find the concept of sustainability transition attractive, but the attractiveness is not sufficient for them to transform from conventional production to sustainable production," study co-author Dr Wei Yang, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Global Value Chains and Trade stated.

"New Zealand cannot achieve a sustainability transition if sheep farmers choose not to make changes or adaptations for climate change."

The study stated farmers’ adoption of sustainability tools is regarded as holding the most promise for enhancing the appealing New Zealand brand story of 'clean and green'.

"The attitude–behaviour gap indicates one of the most important gaps in the sustainability transition for the sheep industry and the Government to address."

The research showed policy makers needed to help farmers overcome barriers to achieving sustainable production by finding ways to turn intentions into adoption.

Pressure from the public and the sheep industry drove the intention of sustainability transition, not peer pressure.

"Sustainable transition may not be able to generate peer esteem in the same way that traditional production behaviours, such as behaviours leading to high production and productivity, do in the sheep farming community."

The report recommended increasing the awareness of sustainable production and how it could result in economic returns, as well as promoting knowledge about sustainability transition.

"Policymakers may consider offering training, farm extension programmes and demonstration farm visits for sheep farmers to reduce the uncertainties of sustainable production.

"Promoting sustainable production could also be achieved through prioritising the importance of adopting sustainability tools among farmer groups with support from experts and farmers that had already adopted sustainable practices."

The study also highlighted how sheep production is regarded as more environmentally friendly than dairy and beef cattle, with less direct damage to the environment and lower water requirements.

However, the sheep and beef sector comprised 40% of New Zealand’s land area and accounted for about 20% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions, as well as 45% of the emissions from agricultural industries. 

Find out more about the Department of Global Value Chains and Trade and the qualifications it offers here.