AgriLink The role of advisory services in farmers’ decision making for innovation uptake: smart farming. - AgriLink

The role of advisory services in farmers’ decision making for innovation uptake: smart farming.

Portugal, Lezíria do Tejo

Lezíria do Tejo (Portugal) is an agrarian region (NUTS 3) largely overlapping the river Tagus Valley floodplain, known as Ribatejo. In spite of neighboring the Lisbon metropolitan area, Ribatejo is mostly a predominantly rural and sparsely populated area with an average population density of 54 inhabitants per km2.

Region map

Endowed with fertile soils, this region is historically related to the agricultural production, namely the growing of cereals. Irrigated maize became the main crop in the Northern side of the region after Portugal’s joining the EEC (European Economic Community), in 1986. Taking advantage of the direct support to the cereals production, the region invested in infrastructures, machinery and equipment, and experienced a productivity boom for successive years. By withdrawing direct support to the production, the CAP (Common Agriculture Policy) reforms led to the decline of the irrigated maize area, which was partially replaced by horticultural crops.

This region pioneered the introduction of precision farming in Portugal. The focus on productivity gains and cost-effectiveness, the dominance of annual arable crops, alongside with a strong and well-connected regional AKIS, largely explain the region leading technological innovation.

Study focus

The study focuses on a technological innovation which is a good example of smart farming. Soil moisture probes are a smart technology that monitors soil parameters such as humidity, temperature and salinity at different soil depths in real-time.

The probes communicate the data to a software that stores, manages and integrates information from other devices, namely from in-field meteorological stations, on crop and soil features. The software delivers alerts and reports, by web and mobile apps, informing farmers and advisors about the irrigation status and needs of their crops, and also on weekly and monthly irrigation plans.

The farmers targeted by the study went from small to large family commercial farmers, who prevail in this region. The innovation path of many of them is intertwined with the region’s transition from focusing on crop productivity in the 1980s to the current paradigm of sustainable intensification aiming at tackling eco-efficiency and the competitiveness challenges both the region and its farmers are faced with. The predominant business model is bulk sell and farmers are confronted with their productions farm-gate price stagnation alongside with mounting production costs, due to the rise in input prices. Simultaneously, they face growing demands from customers, society and policies to be environmentally sustainable.

Advisory farmer-based organizations (FBO) in this region are solid and well-connected with downstream and upstream industry, as well as with the R&D sector and the high-technology companies. Hence, the study’s focus on understanding the role of FBO advisory services in disseminating and supporting different farmers’ assessment and implementation of the smart irrigation sensors.

Smart irrigation sensors and Irristrat software by Hidrosoph (

Full report available here.

Partner and responsible person contact

University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro

Lívia Madureira,

University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD) is responsible for the education and advanced training in agricultural and technology development, and currently offers a PhD programme in the area of farm digitalization. The team involved in AgriLink includes researchers from CETRAD (Centre for Transdisciplinary Development Studies) with experience in former EU projects on farm advice, including PRO AKIS and a focus on KIS (knowledge and innovation systems) and KIBS (knowledge intensive business services).

Lessons learned
1 Innovate a business models by investing in both back-office and front-office activities.
This case showed how FBO advisory services can innovate their business models by investing in both back-office and front-office activities. Strong back-office, buoyed by qualified advisors capable of networking with R&D and hi-tech sector, enabled some of these organizations to be in the forefront of co-development digital technologies, also contributing to the success of the private technological companies in developing customized solutions that meet the needs of different farmers, crops and regions. The effectiveness of their advisory services, respecting the awareness and the support to the assessment and implementation of smart irrigation, results from being close to and trusted by the farmers by providing quality front-office advice.
2 The high connectivity of regional AKIS allows the advisory services inclusiveness.
The high connectivity of regional AKIS allows the advisory services inclusiveness regarding farmers’ access to free trials and campaigns to experiment technologies at reduced rental fees. The access to research and innovation projects was also a key pillar at the initial stages of launching the technology in the region.
3 Farmers’ heterogeneity is determinant.
Farmers’ heterogeneity is determinant for dropping and not adopting innovation. This is a case in which ‘plot size matters’. Small and medium farmers possessing fragmented areas across several small plots evaluate the technology as entailing an excessive cost in comparison to benefits. Major benefits of this technology are perceived by larger farmers with strong digital capabilities. Besides, most of the adopters are passive users who rely on advisors to assist them with probe installation and to provide them with simplified information that enables them to use the technology without an excessive cognitive burden.

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