AgriLink The role of advisory services in farmers’ decision making for innovation uptake: developing new activities - Pocket Digestions (Renewable Energy) - AgriLink

The role of advisory services in farmers’ decision making for innovation uptake: developing new activities - Pocket Digestions (Renewable Energy)

Belgium, Antwerp

The choice of focus region in relation to the selected innovation was the province of Antwerp (BE21 – Nuts 2). This region was chosen because of the following reasons:

  • This is where the innovation originated;
  • This is the region where the most innovations (digesters) were adopted;
  • This is Flanders’ most innovative region for dairy.

However, because this region wasn’t big enough to get the complete picture of the case study, we had to include some farmers from other provinces in Flanders.

Region map.

Approximately 92,500 hectares (about 1/3) of the area of the province of Antwerp is used for agriculture. The province contains 3,627 professional agricultural and horticultural companies. The cultivation of forage crops accounts for 79% of the agricultural area in the province. Of these, maize and grass are the most grown crops. In 2014, only 1% of the forage crops consisted of other forage crops than maize and grass, such as fodder beet and clover.

More than half of the number of farms in the province is owned by cattle farmers, which explains the large area of ​​forage crops. In the province of Antwerp, dairy (goat) farms, beef calve farms, and poultry farms are highly specialized. Antwerp is at the forefront of the other Flemish provinces in the number of broiler chickens and veal calves.

Study focus

The study focuses on a technological innovation in environmental technologies. It’s a system called Small-scale digester or pocket digestion, a technology where the anaerobic digestion process is applied to proprietary biomass flows (manure) for the on-site production of renewable energy. After combustion of the biogas in a combined heat and power (CHP) installation, this energy is made available in the form of electricity and heat and is used to a maximum on-site.

The popularity of pocket digestion has increased greatly in the last few years in the Flemish region of Belgium and a number of neighbouring countries. In Flanders there are about 120 sold pocket installations to this date.

The aim of this survey is to better understand the role played by advisory organizations in the development and assessment of these technologies for and with farmers, and in farmers’ decisions to adopt them or not.


Full report is available here.

Partner and responsible person contact

Innovation Support Centre

Innovation Support Center for Agricultural and Rural Development – INNOVATIESTEUNPUNT, is situated in Flanders, the Dutch speaking northern part of Belgium. Our mission is to inform and inspire farmers about new challenges and opportunities and to support them with the development and implementation of concrete projects.

Lessons learned
1 Farmers have various sources of innovation knowledge.
Farmers often read about the existence of the pocket digester in technical magazines or on websites from advisory organisations or farmer based cooperatives (e.g. Boerenbond). Besides those, individual contact with other farmers who had already implemented the innovation was another major source of information. Farmers would often go and visit the farms of colleagues who had recently installed their pocket digester. Furthermore, farmers also would visit agricultural fairs to find out the latest innovations in agriculture.
2 Farmers meet representatives from the installing firm.
The pocket digester had won an innovative price at the Agribex fair in 2011, sparking its publicity. At these fairs, farmers could also meet representatives from the installing firm who were final important actors during the awareness stage. During the assessment stage, farmers would talk to representatives from the installation firm and with peer farmers who had already installed a pocket digester.
3 They have access to workshops and feasability studies.
They also turned to farmer based cooperatives (e.g. Innovatiesteunpunt), where they could meet up with advisors individually or follow workshops. These instances also provided additional services such as feasibility studies.
4 Representatives from the installation firm are the main supporting actors.
The main (and often the only) supporting actors during the implementation stage clearly were representatives from the installation firm. They would follow up on the installation of the digester by visiting the farm in person, or even perform the installation themselves in the cases where farmers opted for a leasing contract.

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