Table 1 in our Agriculture and Human Values research note, showing the statements used in our novel ‘fenceline behaviour’ question set.

At long last, a research note is out today in Agriculture and Human Values that had its genesis at many different farmer kitchen tables during past qualitative field work, going as far back as my Australian postdoc in 2008. I repeatedly heard things that suggested that direct neighbours had an impact on farm management and adoption behaviour, and not necessarily in the generally positive way suggested by diffusion of innovation theory.  In 2020 when I was hiring Kynetec to do a survey of beef producers in Canada, I turned those comments into a novel question set about ‘fenceline behaviour’, to see how those ideas looked at a population level and if there seemed to be any associations with adoption behaviour. In our new research note, Are fencelines sites of engagement or avoidance in farmer adoption of alternative practices? we identified two different clusters of farmers based on answers to those 8 statements–fenceline engagers and fenceline avoiders–and also found that farmers using adaptive multi-paddock grazing were three times more likely to be engagers. This suggests that feelings of vulnerability at the fenceline can discourage farmers who are avoiders from experimentation with new farm management approaches.  Some statements were more useful than others at differentiating between these two types. Most farmers agreed mildly, on average, that fencelines provide a good site for diagnosis: comparing the impacts of their practices relative to their neighbours. But there was a wide range of responses to, “It is ‘live and let live’ with my farming neighbours: they don’t comment on my practices and I don’t comment on theirs”, which is a rural expression of the ‘civil inattention’ concept first described by Erving Goffman in cities. We hope that others will build on this work, for instance to explore trust and norms in more detail with farm neighbours, micro-scale adoption communication and causality.