Dr Romy Greiner, Environmental Economist, Director River Consulting Pty Ltd

Government policies and programs that target an ‘average’ landholder will appeal to few. Instead, successful policies and programs must respond to the many different situations that landholders experience, and the range of challenges they face –  and this is what the Landholders Driving Change project is about.

Adopting different ways to manage land is risky and complex, and can be a stressful process. The decision to change practices typically involves more than one person and involves overcoming a range of real and perceived barriers such as resource constraints (labour, capital, time, lack of external support); uncertainty about the future of property and tenure, including family pressures; lack of industry cooperation; and scepticism about government regulation.

In certain contexts, choosing not to change land management practices can be a valid decision, even if adopting change could result in long-term economic benefits.  Factors such as market conditions, cattle prices, debt level and drought can be seen as barriers to implementing new practices.

Landholders operate a diverse range of businesses and apply a wide range of business models.  This means there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to managing grazing land, and this project reflects this reality.

For the Great Barrier Reef to have a chance at surviving into the future we need to clean up the rivers running into it, and we need to do so urgently. The Landholders Driving Change project asks landholders to come up with workable solutions to improve water quality rather than relying on bureaucrats developing theories.  

This is critical because it enables landholders to take ownership of the solutions and therefore generates genuine involvement.  As an environmental economist I am delighted to contribute to the project by bringing to bear the findings from the many years of social research that has already been done with landholders into the factors that motivate and discourage them from adopting practice change.

This research has involved many hundreds of surveys and conversations with landholders. Some of this research with graziers in the Burdekin catchment has been at the forefront of international research.

Graziers bring local knowledge to the table because they know their country. These individual experiences are invaluable, particularly when they are backed up by scientific research based on a wider set of landholders. This can send compelling messages to government.

Getting more landholders to change requires local learning opportunities such as demonstration sites of practice change, and tailoring programs to a diverse set of preferences. Working out how to do this will give us a real chance to make a difference while also improving long-term viability of the grazing industry.

The challenge for this project is to find a suite of incentives ranging from financial to education and extension to business planning, which engages with a sufficient number of landholders to effect enduring land use change and associated water quality improvements.

Romy is working alongside graziers, scientists and technical experts to design land condition and water quality improvement solutions in the BBB catchments near Collinsville, under the Queensland Government-funded Landholders Driving Change project.