What are the four personality types of Australian farmers?

image of Cam Nicholson
Agronomist Cam Nicholson has spent the past 15 years studying the behaviour of his farmer clients to develop a better understanding of how personality types affect learning and business operation. He shares his insights in a new GRDC podcast. Photo: GRDC.

People tend to see farmers as one large group of food and fibre producers. But have you ever thought about what different individuals they are? How would you encourage these independent, self-sufficient people to adopt change or innovate?

Agronomist Cam Nicholson is passionate about providing advice to boost farmers’ profitability and productivity, and one of the keys tools he uses is determining the personality types of his clients.

This week he is a guest on the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) podcast series, which has been developed to keep growers and other industry stakeholders informed on-farm.

The series features some of the grains sector’s most pre-eminent researchers, growers, advisers and industry stakeholders sharing everything from the latest seasonal issues, to ground-breaking research and trial results with on-farm application.

Mr Nicholson said research shows everybody learns and responds differently and over the past 15 years he has developed his own assessment guide to farmers based on the temperament typing of the Myers Briggs Type Indicators (MBTI) and the work of Queensland psychologist and beef producer Rod Strahan.

In this engaging podcast he shares his insights into the how farmers can be categorised and why it helps to understand their learning preferences and personality types if you are working with them, particularly as an agronomist, farm adviser or stock and station agent.

Mr Nicholson initially presented his information about the value of understanding how the people you are working with ‘work’ at the GRDC Grains Research Update to help improve agronomists and farm advisers understanding, interaction and engagement with their clients.

He said farmers can be divided broadly into four types:

  • The dependables: who love what they do, are very reliable and methodical and need a good reason to change.
  • The doers: who are a bit like the dependables, but they work at a more frantic pace and tend to not quite finish off jobs.
  • The pioneers: who are the first to try something, adopt new technology quickly, love to think strategically about big picture, take risks.
  • The team builders: they farm with intergenerational change and the environment in mind, and both males and females contribute equally.

“About 80 per cent of farmers fall in to the first two categories with about 55 per cent being dependables and 25 per cent being doers. In comparison, within the general Australian population, the dependables make up 40 per cent and the doers account for 15 per cent,” Mr Nicholson said.

“The balance are the pioneers and the team builders, who together make up about 20 per cent of farmers. In the Australian population there are only 15 per cent of these types.”

When it came to providing on-farm advice Mr Nicholson said the trick was to assess your clients’ temperament type by asking questions, assessing their answers and observing how their farm operates.

“This approach really works both ways. Farmers should also know their own personality types through simple testing online, so that they know their strengths and how they’ll respond to pressure or making decisions,” he said.

“Then they need to identify complementary personality types within the business, or bring someone with the necessary skills in.

“In many cases adding women to the decision-making mix is also positive, as that helps to balance out the way in which decisions are made and information gathered.”

Mr Nicholson said while it was difficult to change the personality type you were born with, however you can choose to work in different ways and build you skills in areas that you aren’t naturally strong in, as well as be prepared to consciously change the way you work.

“There’s a bit of conjecture over the actual split, but I believe that the influence on temperament types is 40 per cent genetic, 40 per cent what you learn in the formative years aged 12-15, and about 20 per cent the crowd you hang with,” he said.

“And funnily enough, there’s not a lot of difference between the average Australian farmer in his/her 50s and 60s, and the younger digital natives coming through – they’re young, but they’re inherently conservative.”

While it took him 15 years to learn this, Cam says he’s spent the following 15 years sharing his knowledge with others and becoming a more effective advisor.

To listen to Mr Nicholson’s podcast, go to https://grdc.com.au/podcasts.

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