AgriLink The role of farm advice in farmer collaboration for environmental benefits. - AgriLink

The role of farm advice in farmer collaboration for environmental benefits.

United Kingdom, Cumbria and East Anglia
Region

Two regions in England were selected: East Anglia and Cumbria, for which farmer groups had been established to explore co-operation for environmental benefits. Cumbria lies in the north-west of England with upland sheep and beef farming being the dominant agricultural land use.

Region map

There are two National Parks, the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District National Park covering mountains, lakes and rivers. Some arable cropping (barley and wheat) is supported on lower land near water courses. Farmers own land outright next to their holding on lower land, but the higher ground is considered common usage and neighbouring farmers share grazing rights for a number of sheep (fell rights).

East Anglia conversely is rather flat, with fertile soils in the lowlands and the dominant agricultural land use is for arable farming, therefore farm sizes are larger. Potatoes, vegetables and different cereals are typical crops grown in this region. There is increased pressure upon water resources due to the demands from arable cropping and potential diffuse pollution.

Study focus

The innovation of farmer collaboration for environmental benefits is to promote joint action across farm boundaries in order to address specific concerns such as flood management along a water course affecting farms at both the upper and lower levels of a river and increasing the overall biodiversity of an area. Acting upon environmental issues, it is widely understood to positively contribute towards farming in a more sustainable way.

Groups were selected that had received funding under the Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund (CSFF). The CSFF is an instrument that provides funding for facilitators to develop cooperation amongst a new or existing group of land managers (e.g. farmers, foresters) and agree the agri-environmental management priorities that they plan to take forward across their holdings (www.gov.uk/countrysidestewardship ).

In total, 32 farmer interviews were conducted, of which 28 were adopters and 4 were non-adopters (Cumbria). In each region, 3 groups were included in the study and in Cumbria, a rivers trust and national park authority were responsible for facilitating groups, and in East Anglia, a farm conservation NGO was the main facilitating body.

 

Full report is available here.

Partner and responsible person contact

James Hutton Institute (JHI)

Christina Noble, christina.noble@hutton.ac.uk

James Hutton Institute (JHI), Aberdeen, Scotland.

 

Lessons learned
1 Regional differences existed between the 2 counties.
In Cumbria, many of the farmers interviewed did not explicitly know they were part of a facilitation fund group nor could they correctly identify the name of the group. This was considered to be in part due to the facilitator of the group, who wanted farmers to have a social meeting space and secondly discuss environmental concerns of interest to the farmers. These groups were often new and involved bringing together farmers who previously were not known to each other.
2 In East Anglia, facilitation groups were often formed from pre-existing groups.
In East Anglia, facilitation groups were often formed from pre-existing groups and the notion of farmer collaboration for environmental benefits is more established in this region. Therefore, the function of the group was less ‘top-down’ than in Cumbria, as farmers often knew each other and were used to expressing and sharing ideas in a group format.
3 A key challenge to the viability of some groups, is the attendance rate of many farmers.
No penalties existed for farmers who didn’t attend, farmers had initially signed up but did not attend any meetings. The facilitator is seen as key to the relative success of a group, in order to build and establish momentum and encourage collaboration within a group. Most facilitators had a farming background and some were well-known to farmers already, whilst others were in a more junior role in their organisations, and this too impacted on the group’s success.
4 Ascribing who is and who isn’t an adopter or dropper of this innovation is difficult since members were not obliged to attend all meetings.
Farmers also did not need to state they were leaving a group, and therefore dropping the innovation. The nature of the innovation also meant these groups were conducted over longer periods of time which again impacted on levels of attendance. A non-adopter of the innovation was easily described as one who did not sign up for the group or attend meetings.
5 Advisory challenges in the UK relate to fragmentation.
Advisory challenges in the UK relate to fragmentation which came about as a result of commercialisation and later privatisation of originally state-funded and organised agricultural advisory services since the 1980s. Farm advice is structured, organised and financed differently in the four UK countries, with little exchange and alignment between the devolved governments, agencies and non-state providers. In Cumbria and East Anglia, the main advisory actors (in this case group facilitators) were not from public sector bodies but NGOs, National Park authorities and various trusts. This is not surprising given the fragmentation of advice in the UK.

Want to know more?
Follow us on social media

Stay connected!
Sign-in below to receive more AgriLink 2020 news.