Melkebonde med robot Foto: Colourbox
Melkebonde med robot Foto: Colourbox

“The good farmer” is motivated by more than just money

Being a good farmer is not just a matter of finances. The satisfaction that comes from running an operation well and gaining recognition from others are also important factors. However, new technology can cause the "good farmer" as we know him or her to disappear.

Norwegian agriculture faces mounting pressures, both economically and socially. Cultural motivations for preserving cultural landscapes and biological diversity will most likely become increasingly important.

– In many cases, researchers wonder why farmers continue to run their farms despite agriculture’s low profitability. The “good farmer”-approach claims that farmers remain in agriculture because they receive non-monetary rewards. This includes the satisfaction of successfully practicing good agriculture, as well as receiving recognition from people who are important in the farmer’s community, says Ruralis researcher Rob Burton.

Burton is the lead author of the book “The Good Farmer” which recently hit the shelves. The book explores “the good farmer” and provides a framework for understanding the farmer’s behavior in a cultural perspective.

Examines culture and identity

– Previously, we have focused on financial incentives, and eventually also on motivations and how they relate to attitudes. But none of these factors adequately capture the importance of farming culture and the identity of farming communities, says Burton.

The concept of “the good farmer” explores the symbolic meaning of activities in agriculture. In working on his doctorate in the mid-1990s, Burton discovered the significance of being recognized as a “good farmer”. This had to do with showing the neighbors that you were a good farmer, and that one’s neighbors were judged by how farms appeared from the outside.

Assessments through the car window

Whether someone was a good farmer or not was determined by driving past each other’s farms and evaluating crops and livestock. Farmers understand how difficult it is to produce good crops and livestock and that visible in the fields. By reading these features of the landscape, farmers can identify “good farmers”.

– An occasional mistake might evoke good-natured teasing, but if the products were of poor quality over time, the farmer could lose his social position in the farming community, Burton says.

While the notion of the good farmer is universal, what symbolizes a good farmer changes over time and from place to place. In the Midwest of the United States, for example, grain silos are a symbol of good agriculture, as they tower over the landscape and can be seen from distances across the flat plains. They immediately indicate how large the farm’s production is. Burton believes that new technology in agriculture will greatly influence the notion of what constitutes a good farmer.

Technical skills take over

– More technology means that the farmer has less need for traditional skills. Other, more technical skills such as computer programming, database administration, electronics maintenance, etc. will be emphasized. When agriculture changes, the symbols of good agriculture change. If we end up with farms managed by robotic systems, the “good farmer”, as we know him or her now, will disappear completely, Burton predicts.

The book aims to leave readers with more knowledge about why culture is important in agriculture and what it means for farmers to be farmers. The book also provides researchers with a framework for studying culture in agriculture.

The book can be ordered here: Good Farmer. 9781138727793. Innbundet – 2020 |