Programme OS6k Rural water conservation
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
(2)University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada,
Keyword(s): farmers values, cluster analysis, water reforms
Session: OS6k Rural water conservation
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
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.