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Keywords:

  • Australia;
  • peri-urban;
  • sociocultural;
  • agriculture;
  • environment;
  • case study

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Changing landscapes
  5. Changing social geographies
  6. Australian peri-urban landscapes: from productivist to post-productivist landscapes
  7. Study methodology
  8. Results
  9. Discussion
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

Peri-urban landscapes are located nearby to a major metropolis and are undergoing rapid change from in-migration and the loss of agricultural land, resulting in a mix of rural, urban, and natural systems. These changing landscapes are fashioned from the discursive relationship between nature and culture, but at times are represented as predominately either natural or cultural areas, perpetuating a nature culture dualism. The values of various resident sociocultural groups are thought to mirror the separation of nature and culture, although other literature argues these groups are much more complex and interwoven in their values and practices. This paper explores a case study of landholders involved in weed management in southeast Queensland and supports the case that the groups are much more aligned in values and practice than is often represented in discourse, or as thought of by institutional practitioners. We argue that some institutions have employed a ‘separatist gaze’, dividing and stereotyping these actors, and aligning their services to one or other group through the compartmentalisation of their institutional functions. We argue that new forms of rural governance can bridge the common ground of these groups if they pay attention to the points of intersection between actors within the peri-urban landscape.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Changing landscapes
  5. Changing social geographies
  6. Australian peri-urban landscapes: from productivist to post-productivist landscapes
  7. Study methodology
  8. Results
  9. Discussion
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

Peri-urban regions are those areas located close to large urban centres that retain some of their rural character, but also experience rapid population in-migration, often for a ‘lifestyle choice’ (Errington 1994). Peri-urban landscapes in industrialised countries have undergone a well documented and rapid urban transformation, which is associated with a progressive decline in the relative importance of their agricultural base, displacement of traditional agrifood systems and alienatation of strategically located productive lands. A simultaneous mix of long-term and newer residents is thought to juxtapose traditional agricultural production values and activity with new ideas and practices about conservation and alternative land use that are respectively attributed to each of the social groupings; however, there is also literature that argues against these stereotypical values of peri-urban social groups because their identities, values and practices are more complex and interwoven.

This paper discusses competing agricultural production, environmental protection and lifestyle or consumption (tourism, recreation, amenity, etc.) values and practices within the context of the rapid transformation of peri-urban landscapes. First we examine the nature of change in peri-urban landscapes, reviewing their evolution from rural to peri-urban landscapes (from productivism to post-productivism). These locales are sometimes viewed as having distinctive cultural activity (such as agriculture) or natural activity (such as environmental protection), implying there is a tension between agriculture and conservation and their associated social groups. This type of ‘separatism’ of the resident groups reflects an underlying nature–culture binary rather than a relational way of conceptualising peri-urban groups. We then present the literature outlining the changing social geographies of peri-urban regions as longer-term residents and newcomers intermix. Recent literature emphasises the diversity within peri-urban landholders and a concomitant shift in the governance frameworks of these locales. Our research then explores the diverse values at play in a case study of a peri-urban region of southeast Queensland, Australia by analysing a trans-group topic of weed management, that is, a topic pertinent to both the long-term and newer resident groups. We present interactions between the longer-term and incoming residents that illustrate the interplay of natural and cultural activities and practice. Our findings support the growing body of literature that multiple peri-urban identities exist that interconnect across and within these locales, but who subscribe to similar goals of agricultural production and environmental protection, as well as lifestyle, in shaping their landscape. We then argue that a legacy of institutional services to, and representations of, these peri-urban landholders occurs through their ongoing ‘separatist’ gaze on peri-urban landholders, one that segregates or fractures these groups as those interested in either cultural or natural values. This separatism prevents collaborative or unified responses to land management. We suggest that, instead, the notion of points of intersection between actors might better connect the shared production and protection of the peri-urban landscape between all actors.

Changing landscapes

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Changing landscapes
  5. Changing social geographies
  6. Australian peri-urban landscapes: from productivist to post-productivist landscapes
  7. Study methodology
  8. Results
  9. Discussion
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

Landscapes in transition: from productivism to post-productivism

The prevailing social and cultural practices of many rural landscapes reflect a productivist ideology that has, at times or in certain places, conflated rurality with agricultural values. Productivist agriculture (agriculture where production values are dominant) is one of the seven forms of rural occupance identified by Holmes (2006). Other modes of rural occupance in his typology are Rural Amenity (consumption values are dominant); Pluriactive Mode a (mix of production and consumption values); the Peri Metropolitan mode (with intense competition of values); marginalised agriculture (potential to integrate production and protection values); Conservation; and an Indigenous mode (where protection values are emphasised).

The predominantly productivist ideology in these rural places was frequently supported through an alliance between various organisations, and the power of this alliance to shape rural policy (Woods 2003). Networks of actors including government, farmers, agricultural pressure groups, business, industry organisations, unions and community organisations coalesced around agricultural production and the essentially farming-based identity of its inhabitants. The primacy of productivism narrowly framed all rural values in terms of agriculture; however, fostered common understandings and coherent approaches to land productivity among rural producers that was mediated through grower social networks and institutions tasked with providing extension services and technical support. Whilst regional variation existed in accordance with different types of agricultural production and ‘natural’ opportunities and constraints, agricultural production was a unifying cultural practice and a political force central to shaping relatively homogenous rural landscapes.

The evolution of some rural landscapes to other modes of occupance attracts other values and practices, such as conservation and lifestyle/consumption in the residents of these locales. This evolution is conceptualised as a productivist/post-productivist transition and a multifunctional agricultural regime or multi-functional rural transition (Wilson 2004; Holmes 2006). A post-productivist transition broadly describes the change toward greater social and physical heterogeneity as a result of societal response to the negative impacts of intensive agriculture. The change is characterised by the withdrawal of protectionist policies and governance regimes promoting production and a shift towards greater environmental protection regulation (Bjørkhaug and Richards 2008). This shift transpires during a deeper ideological decoupling of the ‘rural’ from the ideology of agricultural productivism, and its expansion into conceptualisations of rurality that include rural consumption (e.g. agri-tourism), preservation of the ‘countryside’, and rural nature (Bjørkhaug and Richards 2008; Wilson 2004).

In response to the conceptual limitations of a neatly delineated productivism, followed by a distinct post-productivist regime, Wilson (2004) suggested a continuum of responses during the transition to a multifunctional agricultural regime. The continuum also recognises the differentials of agricultural overcapacity in some locales and redundancy in others (production), along with the emergence of market-driven amenity uses (consumption); and social priorities of environmental management (protection); although Holmes (2006) notes the discrepancy in the transition trajectories of agricultural heartlands in Australia where production still dominates, as opposed to high amenity areas.

Peri-urbanism refers to the transition from predominately agricultural rural landscapes to more urbanised locales. Peri-urban regions are those located within the vicinity of major urban centres and experience rapid population growth as new residents move for job opportunities or a somewhat idyllical ‘rural’ lifestyle (or at least one reminiscent of rurality) that is commuting distance from the major metropolis (Tacoli 1998). The transformation from productivism to post-productivism is particularly depicted in peri-urban landscapes. The peri-urbanisation process involves the search for new housing and thus the subdivision, fragmentation and conversion of rural lands toward rural residential, hobby farm and other smaller-scale land uses (Allen 2003; Gill et al. 2010; Qviström 2007). The resulting landscape presents as a mix of rural, urban and natural systems and their functions, which is thought to have quite distinct needs from more typically rural or urban areas.

Conservation and production tensions in peri-urban areas

The peri-urbanisation transition contributes to a perception of peri-urban agriculture as particularly unviable, which, in turn, drives further land subdivision and fragmentation (Barr 2003; Houston 2005). Loss of agricultural land for housing and rising residential land values limits farm expansion for greater economies of scale, or frequently results in farmers opting to sell their land for an attractive price, further driving the rapid transformation of these locales. Land subdivision and population intensification also fragment ecosystems and threaten biodiversity by clearing habitat and introducing exotic invasive species. Climate change, food security and other complex global challenges increasingly require the co-existence of environmental protection and food production, implying that peri-urban locales are an important place to examine the relational interactions and conversations between a range of actors around these important land uses.

An apparent conflict of values, interests and social tensions was identified as a key challenge to effective land management (Mackenzie et al. 2006). The influx of new residents who purchase land, and their associated sociocultural values and practices, has repercussions for the paradigms underpinning both natural resources management and agriculture as the transition affects both aspects of the landscape (Lerner and Eakin 2011). Some recent discourse has represented the social diversity of peri-urban areas as conflict between these competing values, as the environmental, amenity and lifestyle based values associated predominately with new residents are juxtaposed against the apparent production based values associated with traditional farming landholders. Conflicts arising from the disjuncture between agricultural production, environmental protection and consumption values can result in new landholders complaining about amenity impacts of intensive agriculture, while farmers complain about non-farmers' lack of pest management or land management knowledge (Barr 2003; Burnley and Murphy 2004). Environmental challenges may be exacerbated by the limited land management experience and awareness held by some peri-urban landholders (Aslin et al. 2004; Aslin and Mazur 2005).

The disjuncture reflects a deeper stance in a perceived incompatibility of the commercial agriculture and land management values of farmers and the conservation and lifestyle or amenity values of newcomers (Barr 2003; Burnley and Murphy 2004). This deeper stance is reminiscent of the notion of culturalism, that is, the presumption that members of a ‘cultural’ group share homogenous values, and that their ‘culture’ determines their responses. This notion is one that radically delineates one subculture (agriculturalists whose transformation of the land is an effect of cultural practices) from another (environmentalists whose practices privilege natural systems) and stereotypes their identities and behaviours. In other words, agriculturalists are seen as those preferring ‘cultural’ values of the land; and environmentalists or newcomers are those preferring its ‘natural’ values. Agriculture is seen as ‘cultural’ pursuit, one of human modification of nature and espousing culture over nature, whilst environmental protection is most frequently aligned with ‘natural’ values of the landscape rather than ‘cultural’ values. These dominant constructions and framings of agriculture as ‘un-natural’ sets up conceptual boundaries between social groups and their practices, and groups are polarised as either advocating material production or environmental and/or lifestyle protection. Resulting inter- and intra-group relations, cultural identities and practices, and the role of space in constructing them, are a key focus of social research.

Strictly delineating conceptual boundaries between conservation and lifestyle versus production values and practices perpetuates a nature–culture binary, rather than reflecting a more fluid and relational understanding of the values and practices of all actors, and that is the basis of much contemporary geographical thought. Such segregation of landholding groups has equally often resulted in institutional representations of peri-urban actors as broadly divided on the basis of those with predominately production-oriented values versus those with environmental protection values.

More recently, the public sector supports both farming practices and environmental protection as desirable values of a rural landscape (Cocklin and Dibden 2009), e.g. through agro-environmental schemes in Europe that provide incentives to farmers to adopt conservation measures (Boonstra et al. 2011; Saltzman et al. 2011). Burton and Paragahawewa (2011) observe that economics are not the sole motivator for exercising land stewardship, advocating for other policy measures to support agricultural production and environmental protection that attempt to bridge the continuum of nature–culture imperatives. Conversely, some recent forms of highly intensive agriculture are associated with environmental degradation and with the perception that traditional forms of agriculture protect nature and cultural heritage (Bjørkhaug and Richards 2008). Nevertheless, a focus on economic incentives and stewardship fails to address latent points of social conflict between the views of farmers and conventional ideas about nature conservation on farmland, often expressed as resistance, and reluctance to handover control over both the definition and the practice of nature (Boonstra et al. 2011).

Changing social geographies

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Changing landscapes
  5. Changing social geographies
  6. Australian peri-urban landscapes: from productivist to post-productivist landscapes
  7. Study methodology
  8. Results
  9. Discussion
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

Diversity within landholding groups

There is also scholarship noting great variation within peri-urban landholders across all scales of primary production, conservation, lifestyle and rural residential land uses. For a start, the popular notions of peri-urbanism discussed above focus on the incoming population (Costello 2007) and fail to adequately consider the characteristics and needs of the existing farmers who remain in the same locality, contributing to the broad social mix, and their capacity to conceive of and adapt to change. Saltzman et al. (2011) note the generalising nature of much of the discourse when in fact the social groupings have internally diverse variation and distinctions (Gill et al. 2010) and are all striving for sustainable outcomes.

Vanclay (2004) challenges the representation of conflicting production and consumption values between farmers and non-farmers, by maintaining that farmers are not only concerned with maximising profit but also with maintaining the lifestyle values associated with farming that compensate them for the lower incomes than they might otherwise earn. Farmers are primarily motivated by notions of ‘good farm management’ and incorporate ideas not only about farm management practices and environmental issues but also appropriate social behaviour, norms, values and attitudes associated with being a farmer, and have a simultaneous desire to be recognised for the environmental work that they do (Cocklin et al. 2006; Lerner and Eakin 2011; Vanclay et al. 1998 2007).

Burton and Paragahawewa (2011) argue that agri-environmental initiatives are failing to alter farmers' long-term attitudes to the environment because they do not heed the importance of farming cultures in land management. They note the importance of ‘lowbrow’ forms of cultural capital for farmers, who value their status within their peer group as clean, tidy land managers. In that study, farmers were more motivated to change practices when they felt they were maintaining their professional standards and personal pride in their land. These appeals to farmers' notions of ‘good farm management’ are socially derived, composite entities that do not differentiate between environmental conservation and amenity and agricultural production issues (Vanclay 2004). The dominant representation of conflicting production and consumption values of farmers (and non-farmers) is based on a one-dimensional understanding of farmers as motivated solely by economic or production based values that does not take into consideration the complexity of farmers' motivations. Farmers, like any social grouping, have diverse motivations that must be understood from an integrative perspective that does not stereotype, presume or attribute narrow motives to farmers. Alternatively, Saltzman et al. (2011) theorise agriculture as a cultural mode of involvement in nature, recognising the scholarship of differences in farming styles, cultural norms, and expectations and perceptions of the ‘other’ farmer (Pannell et al. 2006; Sonnino and Marsden 2006; Trauger 2008; Vanclay 2004).

Similarly, newer landowners are argued to prioritise environmental and aesthetic values when adopting land management practices (Curtis and Robertson 2003; Curtis et al. 2005). Gill et al. (2010) observed that, like the farmers in Vanclay (2004), newer landowners expressed a strong interest in ‘doing the right thing’ with regards to natural resource management and production (although the right thing was a dynamic and variable concept). Many newcomers expressed a strong ethic of productivity and concern about the loss of agricultural land, sharing values with all landholders in their region. New landowners, particularly those who ran cattle on a semi/non-commercial basis, did not differentiate between environmental and other land management issues and indeed integrated consumption and production considerations into the management of their land as a whole (Gill et al. 2010).

Peri-urban identities and connections between culture and nature are complex and intersecting. The diverse groups and values that characterise peri-urban places reflect Saltzman et al.'s (2011) point that the discursive practice of nature manifests differently across places and contexts and reflects the ongoing problematic of a nature/culture dualism. As peri-urban land management is conducted in a shared landscape, it is important to acknowledge the diversity amongst farming and non-farming landholders, and the points of intersection that interweave their ‘natural’ and cultural' values and practices.

Governance and change

Concomitant with a multifunctional rural transition is a shift in participatory and governance relations (Holmes 2006). Woods (2003) attributes the emergence of new social and political movements during rural transformation in Britain to five key issues: an undermining of the alliance between government and agricultural interest groups and the rise of new neoliberal forms of governance; in-migration and the changing socioeconomic and demographic composition of rural communities that no longer aligns with agricultural interests; the increased focus on rural amenity and lifestyle preservation; the inability of existing organisations to adapt and represent new interests; and the inability of governments to manage ‘new’ political issues. Actors within peri-urban landscapes include not only farmers and amenity migrants but also government and non-government organisations and interest groups with diverse values and aspirations for the land. Agriculture has come under the scrutiny of a wide range of interest groups such as animal rights and environmental organisations that have contested agricultural dominance from local to global scales (Argent 2011). These changes further exemplify the shift away from the hegemony of agricultural productivity in the post-productive/multifunctional landscapes to encompass greater diversity but also potential social fragmentation along the fracture lines of production, protection and consumption interests.

New forms of post-productivist/multifunctional governance, policy and regulation have emerged in response to the environmental damage associated with productivist modes of agriculture. Burton and Paragahawewa (2011) recommend embedding cultural understandings, rather than prescriptions and regulations, in policy; however, they stress that policy and service delivery should not be based on the assumption that cultures are exclusive and limited, that is, that all farmers value economics or that non-farmers value their environment which perpetuates the nature–culture dualism.

There is a need to develop more nuanced understandings of the values of different peri-urban actors, and their connections and overlaps, rather than perceived stereotypes of segregated cultures, and their intersection with the policy and governance arrangements that exacerbate or enable the bridging of values associated with nature and culture. Whilst Lerner and Eakin (2011, 317) suggest that the interwoven sociocultural values and practices of diverse actors are hybridising peri-urban space, they note that what ‘is less understood, however, is the role of institutions and the way that they can facilitate these activities that are naturally occurring in response to economic and socio-cultural needs’. As such, an examination of the diverse values at play, as well as the role of governance arrangements in bridging these diverse values, is needed.

Australian peri-urban landscapes: from productivist to post-productivist landscapes

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Changing landscapes
  5. Changing social geographies
  6. Australian peri-urban landscapes: from productivist to post-productivist landscapes
  7. Study methodology
  8. Results
  9. Discussion
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

The introduction of agriculture in Australia was manifested strongly in narratives associating agriculture with taming nature, nation building and environmental degradation, which were evident because of the relatively recent colonial history of the nation (Saltzman et al. 2011). From the 1970s, Australian agricultural policy adopted the neoliberal approach that exposed Australian agriculture to competitive globalised markets that promoted hyper-productivism (Cocklin et al. 2006).

The Australian narrative of agriculture as inimical to nature was evident in the increasing levels of environmental regulation as part of the post-productive governance shift during the institutionalisation of vegetation management laws and programs, such as the Landcare initiative to change the environmental attitudes and behaviours of landholders (Bjørkhaug and Richards 2008; Holmes 2006; Wilson 2004). There remained a disjuncture between the political and economic imperative to maximise production, and the pressure to undertake ‘public good’ environmental work at landholders’ expense (Cocklin et al. 2006). The divide between agriculture and natural/environmental protection became a key site of tension between the agricultural production and environmental protection values in peri-urban landscapes, where the increasing mix of alternative sociocultural values forced remaining traditional farmers to reconcile not only the economic imperative to intensify productivity under increasing environmental regulation, but to negotiate increasingly complex social networks and ideological expectations in increasingly fragmented landscapes. In spite of stewardship programs such as ‘Landcare’ that aimed to characterise and uphold Australian farmers as stewards of the environment, Saltzman et al. (2011, 59) observed that ‘When farmers present themselves as environmental stewards they do so in a context of defensiveness, whereby they find they have to combat an understanding of themselves as environmental destroyers’.

Introduction of these new institutional forms within peri-urban landscapes coincided with the retreat of governmental agricultural portfolios from their traditional role as providers of technical assistance (and the transferral of these services to the private sector), and their removal as a major source of information about good farming and land management practices. Some agencies struggled to retain relevance, with landholders engaged increasingly in consumption rather than production activity.

Whilst government and policymakers appear to have embraced post-productivism/multifunctionality, at a grassroots level results have been mixed. Evaluation of the effectiveness of the Landcare program found a stewardship ethic alone did not translate into positive environmental behaviours, particularly when there is no financial incentive to do so (Cocklin et al. 2006). Within the complexities of peri-urban landscapes undergoing transition, Klepeis et al. (2009) found that Landcare was unable to bridge the divide between diverse landowner groups, was unable to reach absentee landowners, and operated in relative isolation without resourcing and commitment to generate the social capital required to address sustainable land management. Whilst there is much progress in bringing about new initiatives to bridge the common ground of peri-urban landholders (see, for example, Stockwell et al. 2012), Saltzman et al.'s (2011) argument that Australian agriculture is mostly seen as a cultural pursuit that contributes to the still dominant perception that farmers and environmentalists conflict in their motivations and practices is persuasive. It imitates the problems of conceptualising peri-urban locales and activities through a separation of natural and cultural praxis, and one in which we explore in the case study below.

Study methodology

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Changing landscapes
  5. Changing social geographies
  6. Australian peri-urban landscapes: from productivist to post-productivist landscapes
  7. Study methodology
  8. Results
  9. Discussion
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

Southeast Queensland is a region in Australia experiencing substantial peri-urbanisation associated with an unprecedented population growth rate of 25% between 1991 and 2000, leading to a predicted population of 3.5 million by 2021 (SEQROC in Low Choy 2006). High internal migration has characterised Southeast Queensland as a population ‘turn around’ region (Burnley and Murphy 2004). Population growth has coincided with the decline of farming enterprises in Southeast Queensland at a faster rate than most other parts of Australia (Carter et al. 2007) and the clearing of 7500 ha of bushland and agricultural land each year for housing (Low Choy 2006).

The research design of this study follows a sequential explanatory mixed methods research design, using a two-staged quantitative data-gathering phase to collect and analyse numeric data; followed by a qualitative phase. During the first quantitative data-gathering phase, factors associated with landholder weed management practices, attitudes and perceptions, knowledge and awareness, information needs and learning preferences were explored through a social survey questionnaire during 2007 containing 34 questions. A range of participants from different peri-urban locales of southeast Queensland were approached at events including the annual Royal National Agricultural Exhibition in Brisbane (the capital of Queensland), the Queensland Landcare Conference, through various weed management events and the electronic databases of local government and regional natural resource, farmer markets/organisations, personal contacts (who were asked to identify other potential participants) and a university electronic network. Potential participants were asked if they lived in southeast Queensland and an area that could be described as peri-urban in character (with descriptions given) and eventually 920 questionnaires were distributed to potential respondents.

The 104 landholders who responded (54 self-identified ‘farmers’ and 50 self-identified ‘non-farmers') reflects a response rate of 11.3% out of all landholders who were sent the questionnaire. Questionnaires were distributed in a non-proportional stratified sample to reflect both ‘farming’ and ‘non-farming’ landholders. Many newcomers have taken up farming activity in southeast Queensland, either on a full-time or part-time basis, so non-farming landholders in this survey was restricted to those who undertook no farming activity whatsoever, whilst farmers were those engaged in any form of agricultural production that generated income, including small-scale trading with single-owner ‘fruit stalls’, hobby farming, and part-time and full-time production. Questions focused on how peri-urban farming and non-farming landholders differed across key areas identified from previous literature. Non-parametric tests were used to analyse the relationships between categorical variables that did not have a normal distribution and involved a small sample (Field 2005; Pallant 2005). The responses were analysed and their implications are discussed below.

Phase two involved purposive selection of 10 interviewees, including landholders and natural resource management (NRM) volunteers and professionals working within local government (some identifying as peri-urban traditional farmers or new residents). Face-to-face, semi-structured interviews were conducted to probe the themes that emerged from phase one, and interview data were transcribed and coded as these themes. Data were tabulated and themes across landholder professional and NRM groups analysed and integrated with the findings of phase one on the basis of triangulation, complementarity and initiation (Brannen 2005; Burke and Onwuegbuzie 2004; Tashakkori and Teddlie 1998).

Results

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Changing landscapes
  5. Changing social geographies
  6. Australian peri-urban landscapes: from productivist to post-productivist landscapes
  7. Study methodology
  8. Results
  9. Discussion
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

A reading of the statistical analysis in Table 1 shows that the demographic profiles of those who identified as farmers was similar to the characteristics of farmers elsewhere, who tend to be older, male, and without formal higher education qualifications. Farmers had owned or managed their properties for significantly longer durations than those who identified as ‘non-farmers’ (U = –4.042, p < 0.001), confirming the results of similar studies that farmers tend to be longer-term residents.

Table 1. Similarities and differences between landholding groups found from the survey questionnaire
Survey resultsFarmers (n = 54)Non-farmers (n = 50)
  1. Statistically significant differences are noted with an asterisk.

Median age group55–59 years50–54 years
Gender male:female80:2039:61
Most frequent educational level attainedTrade or technical qualificationUniversity undergraduate or postgraduate qualification
Median length of property ownership

15.5 years

*U = –4.042, p < 0.001

6 years

*U = –4.042, p < 0.001

Property size 10 ha or greater>80%>20%
Weed management practices:  
chemical2 (1) = 4.919, p < 0.05 
cultural 2 (1) = 4.427, p < 0.05
Monitoring practicesNo significant differencesNo significant differences
Weed management concerns (responses to open-ended questions)

Similar concerns expressed, i.e.

  • specifically named weeds of concern
  • lack of government management on public land
  • lack of government monitoring and enforcement
  • lack of coordination between government agencies and landholders
  • impacts of weeds and weed spread
  • absentee landholders (including the public sector)
  • lack of information and knowledge

Similar concerns expressed, i.e.

  • specifically named weeds of concern
  • lack of government management on public land
  • lack of government monitoring and enforcement
  • lack of coordination between government agencies and landholders
  • impacts of weeds and weed spread
  • absentee landholders (including the public sector)
  • lack of information and knowledge
Barriers to weed management

Similar barriers expressed, i.e.

  • time
  • money
  • inaccessiblity of land
  • labour

Similar barriers expressed, i.e.

  • time
  • money
  • inaccessiblity of land
  • labour
Important values/reasons for managing weeds (ranked in order or preference)
  • Productivity and profitability of agricultural land
  • Conserving biodiversity
  • Conserving waterways
  • Preventing stock poisoning
  • Preventing contamination of produce
  • Maintaining tourism and recreation
  • Protecting public health
  • Conserving biodiversity
  • Conserving waterways
  • Productivity and profitability of agricultural land
  • Preventing contamination of produce
  • Maintaining tourism and recreation values
  • Protecting public health
  • Preventing stock poisoning
Sources of information:  
stock and station agents2 (1) = 6.182, p < .05 
rural merchandise firms2 (1) = 11.792, p < .05 
government programs, e.g. Landcare 2 (1) = 5.065, p < .05
friends and neighboursNo significant differencesNo significant differences
Learning needsField daysInternet
Printed materialPrinted material
Discussions and demonstrationsDiscussions and demonstrations

In this study farmers ranked the value of productivity and profitability of agricultural land on the questionnaire as their priority, but nominated the protection of biodiversity, and of waterways immediately as of next importance from a list of seven alternatives. Conversely, non-farmers ranked protection of biodiversity, waterways, then protection of productivity and profitability of agricultural land as their first, second and third priorities respectively. Despite the range of values that could have been chosen, the matching priority goals of all landholders reflect the commonalities of both natural and cultural values of both groups. For example, a long-term resident (a full-time commercial farmer) expressed his concerns as:

Loss of primary production is one of the things, preventing weed spread, the impact on production … and the aesthetic value I don't like seeing shitty old vines all over the scrub.

Similarly, consumption values such as an amenity lifestyle offered by the region's unique characteristics are of equal importance to all landholders:

This is no longer prime agricultural land. We exist here because we like to live here that is all. We put up with the hardship of working this land if we had half a brain we would move.

Long-term resident; full-time commercial farmer

The intersecting cultural values seen in both social groups are evidenced in the emphasis placed by all landholders on time paucity and managing their own competing lifestyle activities:

It is really hard to find time to prioritise weed management when we have to spend so much time in the pottery we need to make an income.

Lifestyle block owner

There were some points of difference between the two groups about the technicalities of environmental management, rather than values of the landscape. For example, those who identified as farmers were significantly more likely than non-farmers to prefer using chemically based approaches to eradicating weeds [χ2 (1) = 4.919, p < 0.05]; while non-farmers preferred a ‘cultural’ technique such as mowing or hand pulling weeds [χ2 (1) = 4.427, p < 0.05]. On closer inspection, these apparently divisive cultural practices are pragmatic:

The program such as the insect in groundsel, they use biological control – this is difficult because once the weed is down the insect moves to another crop or adapts.

Full-time farmer

While there is widespread use and cautious acceptance of chemicals, those who farm for commercial needs were more inclined to accept chemicals as ‘the only way to deal with some problems’ although were concerned about impacts on people, waterways and animals, as explained by one ‘lifestyle’ block owner who was retired but had farmed commercially:

Anyone that thinks that you enjoy using sprays just doesn't understand the only way you can deal with these things initially is with sprays.

A growing dependence on off-farm income is common for farmers on small farms and those affected by declining commodity prices and while it has the benefit of securing income and on-farm occupance, it places time pressures and competing demands on farmers that are similar to those facing anyone else. A part-time farmer and horticultural consultant explained:

They tend to be the same; time is the main issue especially for those people with other work commitments and absentee landholders.

The fact that many of the farmers in this study pursued off-farm income means that they experience similar constraints and concerns to many non-farming landholders who do not engage in any farming activity. Many non-farmers (who can afford the inflated land purchase prices) may work from home or subsidise a reduced expenditure lifestyle. It cannot be assumed that peri-urban landholders fall into clearly defined and distinct landholder groups with no common ground. All landholders agreed that many agri-environmental problems such as weeds do not respect property boundaries and require collective capacity and action, through a coordinated approach involving government agencies, community organisations and landholders or else was viewed as a waste of time:

It is a particular problem with the people next door, they have every vine in the world and it doesn't matter what I do on my side, the weeds continue to come through. The hardest thing is the politics of how to do it. I do a reasonable job of keeping the weeds down, on the other hand I can keep it clean but if the guy next door doesn't we are back to square one.

Lifestyle block owner and retired farmer

Landholders were collectively critical of the irresponsibility of absentee (private and public) landholders, especially on abandoned farms but also government lands. Their view of the governance arrangements was that of an overriding lack of political will to prioritise or fund weed management, and interpreted this lack of funding as government disinterest and unwillingness to engage as a landholder. Governance arrangements need to acknowledge government as an actor in a diverse social network. Government itself was seen as a landholder and an actor largely absent from discussions around responsibility for land management:

There is an old soil dump … they do not even have on their map it is just 10 acres of mess and morning glory rolling down the embankment it has jumped the road and got down into the gully below. We finally tracked down who owns the land, Department of Main Roads. Not only are the roadsides not being managed but also the Department of Main Roads must have (and I would love someone to be able to find out) one of the largest tenure of abandoned land anywhere.

NRM volunteer

Interviewees felt that weeds and complex challenges should be managed at the landscape scale. For example, weeds spread along creeks and waterways, roads and easements and across property boundaries, and the importance of developing connections across social groups with the purpose of understanding and protecting the landscape was highlighted:

It takes some knowledgeable person to drive it that does not have an agenda other than to protect the landscape and the landscapes future … It promotes a sense of ownership and identity as a locality.

NRM volunteer

A second point of difference between the groups was that farmers relied on ‘traditional’ sources of information, such as their ‘DPI’ (the Department of Primary Industries), and accessing stock and station agents [χ2 (1) = 6.182, p < 0.05] and rural merchandise firms [χ2 (1) = 11.792, p < 0.05]. Non-farmers accessed government protection programs such as Landcare significantly more than the traditional farmer information sources [χ2 (1) = 5.065, p < 0.05]. Institutions were perceived as providing a siloed and culturalist approaches to their perceived client group, determined solely on bounded sociocultural construction of farmers and ‘the rest’ that segregated the groups:

In our area the DPI at that time was not interested in small acreage and had their other farming interests like strawberries and a few other things that were viable in this area and were not interested in alternatives.

Part-time farmer

Despite the differences in preferred sources of information about weeds, both landholder groups applied to a range of institutions charged with agricultural productivity and environmental stewardship, as well as additional rural actors such as friends and neighbours in a network for information:

For example, this man who is coming to spray the groundsel, and he will give me his update on what he is doing or the farmer down the road will tell me what the DPI said on their last visit. Often it will be over the fence information … I always like to understand the source of information. It can be like Chinese whispers when you get information from neighbours and others.

Part-time farmer

While farmers preferred field days and non-farmers preferred the internet as a learning mode, these differences can be explained by the slightly younger and more highly educated cohort of non-farmers. Other than those preferences, the remaining learning modes were similar. When income/business depends on accurate information the livelihoods aspect of living in the peri-urban landscape is paramount. It is both practical and prudent to obtain information from as many information sources as possible as evidence-building tactics. The plurality of stakeholders involved suggests that, perhaps to make up for fragmented information, landholders try to validate information by looking to multiple sources, but these experiences colour landholder perceptions of agencies, and create further divisions, as non-farming landholders see government agencies as not representing them, which creates a major obstacle for agencies trying to address land management. In the peri-urban landscape, the ‘separatism’ between farmers and non-farmers is maintained by these culturalist notions of farmers and amenity lifestylers that continue to predominate agency perspectives on peri-urban land management or their inability to respond with new forms of service delivery. Although these concepts are becoming more prevalent in the literature since this data collection and analysis, more recent literature (e.g. Saltzman et al. 2011) notes their spatial variation. Our analysis supports the case of intersecting values and practices, but maintains that government institutions may not see these trends nor perceive of their own role as landholders with intersecting values and practices. Our paper searches for new ways of conceptualising the shared management of the landscape.

Discussion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Changing landscapes
  5. Changing social geographies
  6. Australian peri-urban landscapes: from productivist to post-productivist landscapes
  7. Study methodology
  8. Results
  9. Discussion
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

In this case study there are discernible differences between landholders in peri-urban regions that simply reflect the demographic of age, length of residence/property ownership, and educational opportunity. These demographic indicators do not imply that the meanings of the landscape to different residents is represented by separatist ideologies and values. Although Curtis and Robertson (2003) and Curtis et al. (2005) found a greater concern for agricultural productivity than the priority given to environmental concerns associated with non-farmers in peri-urban contexts, we suggest that farmers do not necessarily differentiate between environmental and productivity based management practices but view both as part of good land management, as observed by Vanclay (2004). The reluctance of farmers to use chemicals may represent the internalisation of, and a means to, combat value judgements of farmers as environmental destroyers (Bjørkhaug and Richards 2008). Farmers in this study responded from a position of defensiveness as described by Saltzman et al. (2011) when questioned about their land management practices, and like farmers observed by Cocklin et al. (2006), were anxious to justify their choices and demonstrate the environmental responsibility of their farming practice. The defensiveness of farmers is a natural reaction to being placed under the condemning surveillance of government and non-government organisations that take separatist approaches to farming and environmental protection and the public. Such judgement, whether perceived or real, interferes with good communication, effectively perpetuating the isolation and defensiveness of farmers. Farmers may resist dominant notions of conservation and interest in nature, instead redefining nature and offering alternative stories based on their own experience of nature, and the interdependence of farming and nature through their lived experiences of the ways in which nature shapes the conditions in which they farm.

In this research, the perceived divisions between social groups are reinforced by institutional silos in the way they locate their services and serve particular client groups; perpetuating a separation of economy and production versus conservation and lifestyle, and disabling the common understanding that all operate in shared landscapes. The influence of siloed approaches to service delivery was evident in the ongoing dependence of farmers on their historical institutional source of information in contrast with the dependence of non-farmers on environmental initiatives. However, non-farmers and some smaller-scale farmers specialising in non-traditional and niche agriculture look to other sources of information as they are not perceived as core clients. This siloed structure of government departments that separate the regulation and delivery of agricultural production and environmental protection services to distinct client groups may be excluding certain groups from important information sources. These experiences create social divisions, but with the public sector rather than between different peri-urban ‘cultures’.

This study suggests that government is a distant and divisive actor in the social networks operating in peri-urban landscapes, perpetuating its position, through regulatory control and by invoking the separatism of nature and culture – or the divide between farmers and non-farmers. The institutional focus on separatist approaches to service delivery has led to a failure to acknowledge government responsibility as land managers, as reflected in the concerns about weed management responsibilities expressed by both landholding groups in this study. Where government takes a land management role it does so in the regime of public infrastructure easements roads, electricity, water, motivated largely by safety and service delivery concerns rather than productivity of surrounding agricultural land, amenity or environmental protection.

Because all rural areas and their social relations are constantly changing, locally repositioning and vulnerable to breakdown (Maxey 2006) there is always a need to establish and negotiate the common ground between social groups, including the public sector, as places change but increasingly depend on integrating production and protection values. Agricultural and environmental discourse can both adopt the recommendations of Vanclay (2004) and Saltzman et al. (2011) to move beyond a separationist position between groups. In turn, this reconceptualisation of sociocultural relations in a ‘hybrid’ peri-urban space will help ‘account for the complexity of needs and motivations … encompassing dynamic interactions between populations, the landscapes they inhabit, and their associated land uses and livelihoods’ (Lerner and Eakin 2011, 317). This requires understanding the fluidity rather than rigidity of social constructions of nature and culture of all actors, including government, and the relationality between all actors around these concepts.

New forms of post-productivist governance such as Landcare have been unable to bridge the divide between landholders (Klepeis et al. 2009). Instead governance is needed that will bridge the historic perceptions of difference that have been manufactured, in part by institutional silos, and maintained through uncritical assumptions about social groups and farming and non-farming cultures. Farmers farm for lifestyle, amenity, nature, and their preferred income/employment, and non-farmers inhabit these areas for similar reasons. As such, we conclude that the concept of intersection between actors be utilised more frequently in the discourse and praxis of shared peri-urban landscapes.

Conclusion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Changing landscapes
  5. Changing social geographies
  6. Australian peri-urban landscapes: from productivist to post-productivist landscapes
  7. Study methodology
  8. Results
  9. Discussion
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

There is sometimes an imagined cultural separatism that peri-urban landholders are divided on the basis of agricultural or environmental protection, or a nature–culture dualism. Our case study supports the literature that the groups are much more aligned in values and practice than is often represented in discourse or as thought of by institutional practitioners. Peri-urban areas represent a diversity of people and a mosaic of landscape types, and offer particular opportunities for relational interaction between people and their activities. We also found that some institutions have employed a ‘separatist gaze’, dividing and stereotyping actors, and aligning their services to one or other group through the compartmentalisation of their institutional functions. Rather than perpetuating culturalism and the stereotypical perceptions about different actors, which is exacerbated by this separatist gaze of agencies, we argue that the intersection between groups needs to be adopted as the dominant paradigm for working in the common ground of the peri-urban landscape. We argue that new forms of rural governance can bridge the common ground of these groups if they attend to the points of intersection between all actors.

Acknowledgements

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Changing landscapes
  5. Changing social geographies
  6. Australian peri-urban landscapes: from productivist to post-productivist landscapes
  7. Study methodology
  8. Results
  9. Discussion
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

The authors gratefully acknowledge the funding of South East Queensland Catchments and the contributions of all the peri-urban residents who participated in this research. We also thank the anonymous reviewers for their instructive commentary on this manuscript.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Changing landscapes
  5. Changing social geographies
  6. Australian peri-urban landscapes: from productivist to post-productivist landscapes
  7. Study methodology
  8. Results
  9. Discussion
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References
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