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Seasonal climate information and farmers' risk assessment and decision making

Dalgleish, L.I. Dr; ph: (07) 3365 6805; fax: (07) 3365 4466;

Research organisation: The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Qld 4072

Sponsor: LWRRDC: The Land and Water Resources Research and Development Corporation


The project will investigate:

  • Farmers understanding of and methods of coping with uncertainty
  • How they understand the way climate information is presented
  • The effect of the seasonal climate information on their predicted scenarios about rainfall and how that influences their perception of the amount of risk they face and their decision to take action


Australian climate is very variable by world standards. At the extremes there is the potential for the greatest ecological, social and financial effects and it is critical for farmers to make the best possible decisions at those times. Seasonal climate outlooks are predictions about the future and provide fallible information for farmers to integrate with other available information to make risk assessments that inform decisions.

Much psychological research over the last 30 years has documented the difficulties humans have with assessing and integrating probabilistic information. In three Phases, the project will investigate the above objectives and provide techniques for measuring the relative importance of seasonal climate information in risk assessments and decisions. The project will also provide tests of ways of presenting and communicating probabilistic and risk information that lead to more realistic risk assessments by farmers

Phase 1: Face-to-face interviews will be conducted with approximately 20 farmers from two regions, Darling Downs and Moree. There will be follow-up telephone interviews. The interviews aim to tap understanding and ways of coping with uncertainty in general and understanding of and attitudes to current ways of presenting seasonal climate information. Emphasis will also be on how farmers link their assessments of risky situations to farm management decisions. Farmers' susceptibility to biases in assessments of probabilistic information will be measured. Along with open and close ended questions, one of the interview methods will involve techniques that enable farmers to use diagrams to show the influence of factors on their understanding of uncertainty.

Phase 2: The model underpinning this phase links risk assessment and decisions by assuming that a farmer makes an assessment of the amount of risk in a situation and if it is above their threshold for acceptable risk they take action to reduce the risk. From Phase 1, a particular key decision will be selected and factors, including seasonal climate information, influencing that decision will be known. Approximately 20 farmers (not necessarily the same participants as in Phase 1), will make risk assessments and decisions on a number of scenarios (vignettes) based on the factors. Each farmer's responses will be analysed using judgment analysis that produces weights describing that farmer's links between the scenario information and risk assessments and Signal Detection.

Phase 3: From farmers' statements, obtained in Phase 1, of how they understand and cope with uncertainty and risk, alternative methods of presentation of seasonal climate information will be developed. In a variety of experimental tasks, these will be tested for ease of use, ability to be understood, reduction in biases in using probabilistic assessments, and the weight that this information has in risk assessments.

Period: starting date 1999-01; completion date 2000-12

Status: project underway

Keywords: risk management; judgement analysis; uncertainty; decision making; climate variability

Publications: None as yet


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