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Farmers make most decisions using their intuition’ noted Dr Nuthall when commenting on some recent research. Successful farmers work hard at improving their decision intuition.

Managerial intuition is not something farmers are born with. They pick up knowledge starting from a young age and this continues throughout life. Initially parents are important in the process, but then a farmer’s lifetime education and experience takes over and becomes the ‘teacher’.

The good farmers, according to the research, have an ability to take on board the lessons from their life’s activities covering all things both farming and managerially. The research used information from several hundred farmers to examine what made up their intuition.

The farmers were divided into groups according to their intuitive ability based on the achievement of their objectives. Intuition is regarded as the mind’s conclusion on the best action to take when faced with alternatives.

Sometimes the conclusion is instantaneous, but in other situations, the mind reflects on issues before coming to a decision. In essence, analysis and decisions made in the mind can be called intuition. Decisions requiring a formal process using pencil, paper, and perhaps a calculator or computer, don’t fit this bill.

The top intuition group of farmers were compared with the bottom group as this makes it clear the differences in farmer attributes. Using this approach clarifies the attributes farmers interested in improving their skills should aim for.

To highlight the main human characteristics for intuitive success, those that were at least 200% different and were statistically significant were isolated. The list covers the personal characteristics of the farmers, and is divided into basic areas such as management style personality, objectives and the issues that were found to be relevant to intuition. Factors not different to any great extent are left out.

The summary list with the percentage differences between good and bad ‘intuiters’ is given below.

The important personality, or management style, factors listed are self explanatory as are the important aspects of the farmer’s objectives which are associated with good intuition. Of the very important thinking ahead factors the important one is called the ‘imperative planner’ meaning close attention to constant thinking ahead with possible plans is crucial. Feed back factors refer to observing outcomes and learning from comments from the listed people.

Technical knowledge is critical to success leading to good farmers constantly seeking new information as well as being determined in this respect, and in achieving output success. Correct and full coverage in observing all relevant factors is a basic requirement as is their recording and thoughtful assessment.

Management Style % difference                                                    Objectives % difference

Consultative community 221                                                            Way of lifer 398

Consultative family et al 215                                                            Community supporter 437

Conscientious planner 315                                                                Feedback factors

Benign manager 220                                                                          Professional conferrer 258

Anticipation factor                                                                           Family/friend discusser 220

Imperative planner 236                                                                      Informal conferrer 236

Observation factors                                                                          Technical knowledge

All round observer 227                                                                       Knowledge seeker 280

Diligent record keeper 208                                                                 Output achiever 236

Careful reflector 235                                                                           Determined technocrat 239

Decision knowledge                                                                           Experience

Theory compliant 234                                                                         People critic experience 315

Theorist practitioner 213                                                                     Mistake learner 219


Productive efficiency 251

Where many farmers need improvement is in their decision theory … this covers optimal decision rules obtained from studying production economics (an example is ensuring marginal cost equals marginal revenue …. look this up on the www). Finally, learning from experience is critical (ensure you learn from mistakes, and be self critical). It is also clear success requires ‘productive efficiency’… that is, getting the most output humanly possible from the inputs used.

To help farmers work at improving all these factors Dr Nuthall put together what might be called an extension novel about a group of farmers as they worked together in improving their intuition and decision skills. It is applicable world wide.

The farmers had monthly meetings covering a range of management challenges and skills associated with intuition. Guided by meeting facilitators, the farmers sort out each other’s decision problems, learning and taking on board the lessons. The book, ‘The intuitive farmer … inspiring management success’, is available by mail through most international book retailers including 5M (,, …..). Use the search facility to find ‘The intuitive farmer’. The small group farmer meeting process is highly recommended. The book can operate as a guide.

Generally, making your management personality blend into good management usually requires the help of trained people, but self help, provided what is required is understood, can be helpful. For example, too much anxiousness is counter productive. This can be dented with self control and instructions on the best methods… search the www. However, working with a suitable mentor can be helpful.

But no matter what your personality, keeping a full diary of all actions, decisions and their outcomes is frequently most helpful provided, perhaps with help, the decisions and outcomes are constantly reviewed with the idea of discovering where improvements might be made.

More information ….. Dr Peter Nuthall (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), Lincoln University, Canterbury, NZ


Nuthall, P. and Old K., (2018) Intuition, the farmers’ primary decision process. A review and analysis. Journal of Rural Studies Volume 58 pps 28-38.

Nuthall, P (2019) A review of the intuition literature relative to a recent quantitative study of the determinants of farmers’ intuition.  International Journal of Agricultural Management, Volume 8  pps. 31-40   DOI:10.5836/ijam/2019-08-31