Social science and economics

EPIC scientists have used behavioural economics models and social science to analyse the impact of determinants on farmers' behaviour towards animal disease prevention and eradication. These efforts to integrate different disciplines have made a significant contribution to Scottish Government disease control policy.

Technology in farming

In research conducted by EPIC's social scientists, farmers expressed negative feelings towards the increasing number of reporting tasks they were facing. The research was based on farmer interviews investigating the adoption of disease control technology, which were conducted with cattle farmers in Orkney and Aberdeen-shire throughout 2013.

Summary of key findings

  • There is little evidence for the generalisation that Scotland’s North East farmers are ‘technology-shy’, indeed, there is evidence of enthusiasm for technological innovation on farms.
  • Livestock farmers are already involved in an increasing series of information flows which they often perceive as an administrative burden.
  • Messages promoting direct farmer benefits from cattle EID adoption are not always prominent in Scottish Government information to livestock keepers.
  • The unpopularity of the mandatory sheep EID scheme appears to deter voluntary adoption of the cattle EID scheme.
  • Some insurance against technology obsolescence would encourage voluntary adoption particularly where mandatory schemes are likely to follow.
  • The belief that current technology is not ‘future-proof’ can deter farmers from making investments.

 Current Demands on Farmers in Scotland to provide cattle data (2014)

Predicting New Sheep Scab Test Uptake

Economic models have been used to predict whether farmers are likely to adopt the P. ovis blood diagnostic test for sheep scab. Using game theory, an economic modelling tool to analyse the outcome of strategic interactions between individuals, expected test prices should result in sufficient uptake by the farming industry to reduce the incidence of sheep scab by approximately 50%.

The demands placed on farmers to manage increasing information flows constitute a significant shift in farmer power from autonomy to compulsion, with farmers held accountable for information, often at the risk of financial penalties for failures to maintain accurate systems.

Farmer Uptake of Biosecurity

In 2013, a biosecurity and technology survey (funded by Defra) conducted across England, Wales and Scotland, captured the attitudes of 900 cattle and sheep farmers to various biosecurity behaviours. Aspects of biosecurity investigated included: use of quarantine, double fencing, vermin control and sourcing of stock.

EPIC scientists analysed these data to identify groups of farmers with different attitudes. Two main groups were identified (i) 'apply most biosecurity measures' and (ii) 'apply only limited biosecurity measures'. This study provides a better understanding of how farmers’ biosecurity practices on farm differ between Scotland, England and Wales, and which biosecurity practices are common to all regions. The findings suggest that ways to achieve behavioural change could include ensuring increased access of farmers to biosecurity information and advice sources. 

'apply most biosecurity measures'

Common attitudes across Great Britain:

‘maintain farm boundaries’, ‘limit access to farm’, ‘disinfect farm equipment’, ‘control vermin’, ‘check records while trading’, ‘trade with trusted sources’

Differentiated attitudes

England: more likely to ‘avoid taking animals to shows’

Wales: more likely to ‘use double fencing’

Scotland: more likely to ‘quarantine for least 28 days after bought in and test on arrival’ and ’avoid taking animals to shows’

'apply only limited biosecurity measures'

Common attitudes across Great Britain:

‘limit access to farm’, ‘control vermin’

Differentiated attitudes

Scotland uses more biosecurity measures on farm



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