In rural regions, land use changes (LUC) are often the result of the decision-making of individual farmers. To influence this decision-making, compulsory and voluntary mechanisms are implemented. However, farmers' decision-making is a heterogeneous process that depends on their ability and willingness to take certain decisions. Discrepancies between farmers' ability and willingness and the design of voluntary mechanisms occur frequently. This makes it necessary to understand how farmers' participation in these mechanisms can affect LUC. The aim of this paper was to demonstrate an agent-based approach to analyse and explore how voluntary mechanisms can influence LUC processes in rural regions. This approach was applied to a rural region in Australia, where clearing of native vegetation has occurred for agricultural development. Historical land cover data and semi-structured interviews were used to parameterise an agent-based model. Factors that influence farmers' ability and willingness to participate in these mechanisms were identified. Three scenarios were simulated with the model to explore how the implementation of different voluntary mechanisms can affect the landscape structure of the region. This paper identifies how the diversity of farmers' decision-making can influence the landscape structure in the region. The advantages and limitations of an agent-based approach in relation to LUC research and policy are discussed. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd.