How does the media influence adoption of more sustainable agricultural practices?

Media coverage has the power to shape farmer behaviour by how it covers and frames topics. SolACE project partners undertook a content analysis to understand how the UK farming press covered SolACE innovations.

As part of the SolACE programme of work, we are trying to understand what might motivate or act as a barrier for farmers to use more sustainable agricultural practices that reduce their crop’s water and nutrient stress. SolACE researchers from Newcastle University are undertaking a range of social science research to understand this, including structured and semi-structured interviews, as well as conducting a content analysis of the UK farming press. The reason why we are looking at how the farming press covers the SolACE innovations is because the media have a huge power to shape its audience’s thoughts and behaviour dependent on how issues are framed.
Recently, Dr Niki Rust of Newcastle University conducted a content analysis of two of the largest farming newspapers in the UK and analysed hundreds of articles that covered aspects related to the SolACE innovations. She found that the most common barriers and enablers discussed in these two press outlets related to agronomic and economic aspects, though very rarely did they cover environmental aspects. More often, the innovations were discussed positively rather than negatively, though this differed dependent on each particular innovation. For instance, precision agricultural products such as decision support systems were spoken of more positively particularly as ways for farmers to save money on the cost of inputs. Conversely, practices such as reduced tillage were spoken about more negatively, especially around agronomic challenges with controlling weeds and economic challenges with the cost of machinery required.
These results are important because they show that farmers might be being swayed into trying (or not trying) the SolACE innovations partly based on how the press cover these products and practices. Large agribusiness that advertise in the magazines might have the power to set the agenda when it comes to coverage of particular products, which could influence farmer behaviour. This research is currently under review in a journal and we hope to have it published by next year.