Sustainability Science

, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 219–230 | Cite as

The challenge of economic growth for sustainable production landscapes

  • Lesley HuntEmail author
Special Feature: Review Article Pathways towards sustainable landscapes


The New Zealand government narrowly frames farming policy to exert pressure on farmers to increase their contribution to the national economy by producing more agricultural products for export through adopting on-farm ‘best practice’. Simultaneously, farmers are under pressure by the government and the public to protect, if not enhance, the sustainability of their farming landscapes. These expectations are to be met in an environment of changing extreme weather patterns, increasing costs and financial uncertainty. Farmers’ response to their context was studied by analysis of what farmers actually do—their practices and outcomes of those practices—enabled through the collection of data from sheep/beef family farms undertaken over 8 years by the Agriculture Research Group on Sustainability. The outcomes of their practices, while sometimes visible in the landscape, became more apparent through a nuanced analysis of multiple data sources (quantitative and qualitative) which revealed the complexity involved in sustaining families, animals and landscapes. Farmers could be grouped into categories labelled developers or low performers, adaptable risk takers, organic conservers, extensive farmers and stable, continuous improvers, indicating the range of choices farmers make to meet their goals while carefully adapting their management of the natural resource base. Pressure to ‘change’ to fit politically driven agendas that overemphasise economic growth runs the risk of undervaluing what farmers already do and may limit the different ways they are able to balance their management of the sustainability, resilience and productivity of their production landscapes and farming businesses.


Sustainability Resilience Farming practices Farming context Production landscape New Zealand 



Thanks to the referees and the editors, Iris Bohnet and Ruth Beilin, of this special issue, for their support and helpful comments which have undoubtedly made this a better article. Thanks also to Chris Rosin (CSAFE, University of Otago) for his insightful comments, Dave Lucock (The Agribusiness Group, Christchurch) for his continuing education of the author in farming matters and his intimate knowledge of the ARGOS farmers gained through his work as Field Research Manager, Jon Manhire (ARGOS Programme Leader, The Agribusiness Group, Christchurch) and to the rest of the ARGOS team for their support and the use of their collected data. This work has been funded by the New Zealand Government, with other financial assistance from an anonymous meat packing company, Merino NZ and the Organic Association of Aotearoa NZ (OANZ).

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 57 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Japan 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Agribusiness and Economics Research UnitLincoln UniversityLincolnNew Zealand

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