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Exploring cultural acceptability of a hypothetical results-based agri-environment payment for grassland biodiversity

Birge, Traci, Herzon, Irina
Journal of rural studies 2019 v.67 pp. 1-11
agri-environmental policy, biodiversity, biodiversity conservation, fallow, farmers, farms, grasslands, Finland
Results-oriented payment approaches are a means to deliver ecological results in agri-environment schemes. The results-based approach requires that farmers understand the meaning of the expected ecological results, and the approach and goals should be culturally acceptable. We interviewed 20 farmers in Finland about a hypothetical results-based payment scheme for biodiversity conservation that builds on an existing grassland fallow scheme. We explored i) how the ‘managing for nature values’ approach fits with ‘good farming’ ideal, ii) whether farmers would be able to operationalize ecological results, for which they would be rewarded, and iii) whether the results-based payment approach enhances or dilutes the current ‘good farmer’ ideal held by the farmers. We used ‘good farming’, cultural scripts, and the visibility of nature to farmers to explore these questions. The ‘tidy farm’ cultural script dominated, but farmers also described their farms as having space for non-production elements. Visibility of nature to farmers varied, field visits with farmer and researchers together resulted in increased enthusiasm for farmers seeing biodiversity as an outcome that they can produce. The grassland fallow fits farmers’ conceptualisations of ‘good farming’, and the results-based payment approach is culturally acceptable. Farmers’ activities show nature values have a place in their conceptualisation of ‘good farming’. We identified four categories of farmers based on their integration of ecological results into farming. These are nature values: 1) central to farmer thinking, 2) well-integrated, 3) viewed positively, but with limited actions and, 4) mainly absent.