Geoff Cockfield: Fast and slow thinking and its relationship to ‘sub-optimal’ production in agriculture

The apparent gap between production potential, based on the assumed adoption of practices derived from research findings, and farmers actual adoption rates and consequent production levels is a concern to research funding agencies. This presentation reports on a study that originates from such a concern about the production of home-grown feed on dairy farms in Victoria, Australia.

Organised by Knowledge Technology and Innovation

Tue 12 December 2017 12:30 to 13:30

Venue Leeuwenborch, gebouwnummer 201
Room V72

There is extensive literature on barriers to adoption and farmer decision-making styles which help to explain why farmers operate at apparently sub-optimal levels of production. This study seeks to complement that work by looking at farmer decision-making from the perspective of Daniel Kahneman’s work on fast and slow thinking and the associated cognitive tendencies that people apply to decision-making.

Data were from interviews with 153 farmers and 17 farm advisors. These have been analysed for farmer characteristics and key themes. Preliminary observations suggest that farmers may acknowledge some scope for increased production of home-grown feed but have various reasons for having, and often preferring, their current production systems. They generally conform to Kahneman’s observation that people overwhelmingly use heuristics (fast thinking) in their decision-making, which contributes to considerable caution about system change. This way of thinking is often in contrast to the production and extension of research, that is derived from, and expressed in the form of, reflective (slow) thinking.  

This presentation is a summary of preliminary findings from the study and concludes with some discussion of the implications of this perspective on farmer decision-making and extension systems and plans for a more structured analysis of the data.