Programme  OS6k Rural water conservation and reuse  abstract 85

Classifying, Clustering & Clumping; defining groups of irrigators in Australia’s Namoi Valley.

Author(s): G. Kuehne(1), H. Bjornlund(1)(2), B. Cheers(1)
(1)University of South Australia, Australia (2)University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada,

Keyword(s): farmers values, cluster analysis, water reforms

Article: abs85_article.pdf
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Session: OS6k Rural water conservation and reuse

The world relies

on irrigated agriculture for about 40% of its food output. The growth in the Earth’s population has led to an

increasing demand for food and a commensurate increase in demand for the use of water for irrigated agriculture.

In Australia a rapid growth in irrigated agriculture has led to tension between competing uses of water. This

rivalry has been made tangible by the visible effects on the environment from the over extraction of water.

Recognising the need to address these problems, the Australian Government is implementing a series of water


The management of water is, at its core, a people-based activity, but despite this people are rarely

acknowledged as being at the centre of the process. Furthermore, when they are actually recognised as being part of

the process, their motivations are often mistakenly identified as being economically



We contend that irrigators are not homogenous, but exhibit a range of behaviours that

are strongly influenced by the values and attitudes that they hold; and that a better understanding of these values and

attitudes will lead to better policy design and implementation.

We hypothesised that the behaviour of farmers

is influenced by their values, attitudes and goals towards family, profit, land, water, lifestyle and community, which in

turn determines their management response to new water policies and thereby determines the outcome and impact of

such policies.


A telephone survey was conducted to gather demographic information as well

as information on past and intended management actions in response to a new water sharing plan for Namoi Valley

in Australia. It also included a set of value and attitude statements with which the respondents were asked to rate

their level of agreement using a one to five Likert-scale. The survey was administered to 121 groundwater licence

holders. Analyses was conducted by hierarchical clustering, a technique that progressively merges clusters. The aim

was to identify groups of irrigators who shared common values, attitudes and goals and to investigate whether these

groups behaved differently with regard to their management of water.


Four groups emerged

from the analysis, Custodians - family oriented, Conservers – value the land and water resource, Conservatives –

cautious and stable, and Investors – profit oriented. Each of these groups has different sets of values that appear to

contribute to different farm management decisions.


Water is not just an economic good;

because people value it in different ways it also has a social dimension. Water reform programs often seek to

encourage community participation or management but without attention to the social side of water creating

unintended and sometimes undesirable outcomes

The social side of water resource management should not be

an after thought; environmental reform policy instruments that recognise the between group variability of farmers are

more likely to be adopted by farmers than those that assume rational economic behaviour. By seeking to explain

some of the influences on farmers’ behaviour this research adds another perspective to those needing to tailour

policy communications to better suit farmers.

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