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The adoption and diffusion of environmental innovations in the Australian sugar industry: A sociological analysis

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posted on 2022-11-01, 05:53 authored by David C Grasby

The relative importance of demographic or 'grower characteristics' as variables that influence adoption of environmentally innovative canegrowing practices is questioned in this thesis. Research, which involved a quantitative study of over 1000 sugarcane producers from Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia, indicates that 'socio-cultural' factors are equally, and in some cases more, significant predictors of the adoption of environmentally innovative canegrowing practices than growers' personal attributes. The research indicates that the social, cultural and economic contexts that growers operate within considerably influence the extent to which knowledge is acquired and environmentally innovative canegrowing practices adopted. Analysis of the data utilises a range of demographic and property characteristics variables, and socio-cultural variables (such as group involvement, gendered division of labour and on-farm knowledge production) to determine their relationship to the adoption of environmentally innovative canegrowing practices.

Research and development into new and environmentally innovative canegrowing practices, as well as the transfer of such innovations, has primarily occurred through the medium of science and technology. Established methods of 'extension', which have previously been used to transfer knowledge in relation to new cane varieties and more productive means of producing sugarcane, are now being turned towards encouraging producers towards environmentally innovative agricultural practices. The degree to which scientific research and development, coupled with traditional methods of 'technology transfer' has been successful in promoting the adoption of environmental innovations is a topic that members of the sugar industry and the wider community have increasingly called into question. The adoption of environmental innovations has not been readily discernible at a ground level and has led to a belief that the extent of take-up of environmentally innovative canegrowing practices has been quite limited.

Scientific organisations involved with the sugar industry had expected that the adoption of new technology would relate in some way to the producer's age, level of education, years of experience or other 'personal' or demographic characteristics. Furthermore, the perceived low rate of adoption led industry personnel to believe that established methods of research and extension no longer had the support or confidence of sugarcane growers. To the contrary, the research for this thesis has found that growers do hold traditional methods of extension in high regard. This is particularly so in the case of advice received from the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations (BSES), the oldest and most established research, development and extension agency in the sugar industry.

This thesis is substantially based upon a 'materialist' premise and argues that knowledge in relation to innovative canegrowing practices is both produced and diffused through social relationships and social practices. A sociological approach, which brings the 'materiality' of human existence to the forefront of analysis, is used to argue that scientific and lay forms of knowledge are produced through the actions of and interactions between human subjects.

The research indicates that the adoption of environmentally innovative canegrowing practices is quite widespread but in the main does not bear sufficiently strong significant relationships to grower's personal (demographic) characteristics or socio-economic variables such as the size, productivity or profitability of the canegrowing enterprise. Moreover, while significant relationships have been found between adoption and various 'socio-cultural' variables such as 'group involvement', 'sources of information', 'attitudes to chemical usage' and 'attitudes to the current state of the industry', the relationships are also trivial in accounting for variance in the adoption variables.

Furthermore, while practices are assumed to be applicable across the sugar industry, adoption is found to be influenced by factors peculiar to local canegrowing areas. The research undertaken highlights the fact that activities, which occur at the farm level are imbued with a cultural complexity that goes beyond - the mere production of agricultural commodities for the sake of accumulation of an economic surplus.

It is apparent that a range of factors influence the extent to which environmentally innovative agricultural practices are adopted in the sugar industry. While demographic and farm characteristics go some way towards accounting for the adoption of environmental innovations in the sugar industry, the social and socio-cultural conditions under which growers operate must also be taken into consideration.


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Central Queensland University

Place of Publication

Rockhampton, Queensland

Open Access

  • Yes

Era Eligible

  • No


Associate Professor Stewart Lockie ; Dr Jim McAllister

Thesis Type

  • Doctoral Thesis

Thesis Format

  • By publication