Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 55–66 | Cite as

Can farmers map their farm system? Causal mapping and the sustainability of sheep/beef farms in New Zealand



It is generally accepted that farmers manage a complex farm system. In this article we seek answers to the following questions. How do farmers perceive and understand their farm system? Are they sufficiently aware of their farm system that they are able to represent it in the form of a map? The research reported describes how causal mapping was applied to sheep/beef farmers in New Zealand and shows that farmers can create maps of their farm systems in ways that allow expression of both individual maps and the formation of group maps which represent the general character of farm systems. A group map was made for all the farmers studied and for subgroups using conventional, integrated, and organic management systems. The results are discussed in terms of the depth of meaning associated with individual elements of the map, map complexity and the limitations of causal mapping. Causal mapping has the potential to contribute to our knowledge of how farmers see their farm systems, and this can benefit farmers and other stakeholders concerned with the management of farms and their economic and environmental performance.


Cognitive maps Causal maps Systems Conventional Integrated Organic Q methodology Sheep/beef farmers New Zealand 



The New Zealand Foundation for Research, Science, and Technology provided funding for this research. Dr. Hugh Campbell and Dr. Chris Rosin, CSAFE, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand and Dr. Ika Darnhofer, Department of Economic and Social Sciences, BOKU, University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, Vienna, Austria provided helpful suggestions and comments on earlier versions of this article. Dr. Tiffany Rinne, AERU, Lincoln University, provided useful comments on the final draft. Comments from the editor helped to clarify the article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Agribusiness and Economics Research UnitLincoln UniversityLincolnNew Zealand

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