AgriLink The role of advisory services in farmers’ decision making for innovation uptake: biological plant protection. - AgriLink

The role of advisory services in farmers’ decision making for innovation uptake: biological plant protection.

Latvia, Vidzeme
Region

The case study of biological pest control in Latvia was carried out in Vidzeme region, located in the North Eastern part of the country. Vidzeme is a predominantly agrarian region. Agricultural land covers 34% of the region’s territory, while forests count for 56%. One fifth of all Latvian farms are located in Vidzeme, and agriculture, forestry and fishing make a considerable contribution of 13,4% (2017) to the regional total added value. Farms in Vidzeme are slightly bigger than average in Latvia in terms of utilised agricultural land (31 ha and 29 ha respectively (2016)). Animal husbandry, especially dairy cows and sheep, and growing of cereals, fruit and vegetables are typical farm specialisations.

Region map.

Vidzeme was selected as the focus region for studying the innovation domain of biological plant protection due to prominence of organic farming in the region, as we assumed that organic farmers are the principal users of biological plant protection methods. The region is home to several pioneer organic farms in Latvia established after the de-collectivisation in agriculture in the beginning of the 1990s. Nowadays, Vidzeme has the highest share of organic farms among the Latvian regions (7.5 %, national average – 5.3 %). The sector experiences a steady growth as the number of organic farms and the organic area (including land in conversion) continue to increase (between 2013 and 2016 the increase was by 19% and 37% respectively).

Study focus

The case study explores the role of farm advice in the uptake of biological plant protection methods in farms. The case study does no focus on one particular biological plant protection technique, but some notable examples include the targeted use/introduction of natural predators of pests (e.g. ladybirds and parasitic wasps to control greenflies), providing special shelters for useful animals (insect houses), etc.

Stimulated by public support and notably subsidies for organic agriculture, biological plant protection methods are receiving growing attention among Latvian farmers as a means for protecting crops in more sustainable ways. However, according to experts’ opinion, farmers’ knowledge and application of these methods remains limited. The case study aimed to identify sources of information and advice that farmers consult, and to explore their role in farmer decision making in different innovation stages, starting from raising awareness of biological plant protection methods to their assessment and implementation.

Full report is available here.

Partner and responsible person contact

Baltic Studies Centre

Emīls Ķīlis, emils.kilis@gmail.com

Baltic Studies Centre (BSC) has vast research experience in the fields of agricultural knowledge and innovation systems and sustainable agriculture, including studies on organic farming and learning and innovations networks for sustainable agriculture. BSC has studied development of organic agriculture in Vidzeme as well as elsewhere in Latvia in several research projects since 2000 (MAS, 1998-2000; SUS-CHAIN, 2003-2005; RETHINK, 2013-2016; SALSA, 2016-2020). BSC undertakes action-oriented research strategies that frequently focus research on the needs of practitioners and support practical innovations towards sustainability.

Lessons learned
1 Varied and often unclear perceptions of biological pest control methods
Farmers in Vidzeme region have varied and often unclear perceptions of biological pest control methods. Often these methods were perceived as being more traditional or natural, better for the environment and health, and there was an uncritical acceptance of positive claims regarding their environmental sustainability, whilst ignoring the dangers associated with excessive use of plant decoctions (extractions) and insects that are natural enemies of particular pests. Many farmers did not consider the biological plant protection methods they apply to be innovations. These perceptions have an impact on farmers’ advice-seeking practices and adoption of the innovation.
2 Biological plant protection methods involves a mix of traditional/local knowledge.
The underlying expertise on biological plant protection methods involves a mix of traditional/local knowledge passed on from earlier generations of farmers and new research-based knowledge provided by contemporary science. Effective application of biological plant protection methods requires constant updating in terms of new insights and techniques that allow farmers adapt to changing circumstances and make use of recent developments.
3 A broad range of various agents in advisory lansdcape.
The advisory landscape in the field of biological plant protection involves a broad range of various agents who consult and advise farmers on these methods. Formal agricultural advisory organisations play a prominent role. However, most of the agents are advice providers without a specific advisory function.
4 Informal learning has a considerable role in dissemination.
Informal learning has a considerable role in dissemination of biological plant protection methods as they are often learned in informal exchanges between peers and relatives.
5 Growing need for relevant expertise among researchers and advisors.
There is a growing need for relevant expertise among researchers and advisors that could assist organic farms in adapting their farming practices based on the principles of biological pest control and motivate a larger pool of potential adopters among conventional farmers as well. Furthermore, there is a pronounced need for independent expertise on these matters, as input providers often encourage a more intensive use of their commercial products that is not always necessary.

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