Blog post: EU agricultural advisory policy in the Dutch context
During our recent AgriLink annual meeting, we learned that European policy such as the EU Farm Advisory Service (EU-FAS) is applied in widely different ways, depending on national and/or regional contexts. To understand the implementation of European policies in national contexts, we presented the implementation of EU-FAS in different countries and learned about differences and similarities. In this blog, we give you an example of how EU-FAS is implemented in a member state. We focus on the Netherlands and first introduce a brief history of the Dutch advisory landscape and then explain EU-FAS implementation in this historic context.
A short history of Dutch advisory landscape
Up until the 1990’s, Dutch agricultural advisory services were public and regulated by the Dutch government. Education, research and advisory services formed a triad where results from research fed into educational curricula and advisory services. However, in the early 1990’s, both research and advisory services were privatised, while education is still a public service financed by the Dutch government. Nowadays, farmers pay for advisory services. But there are also other consequences of the privatisation of advisory services. As one interviewed researcher put it:
We used to strongly think in terms of bleu prints, whereas in the last 10 to 20 years, we are thinking more in terms of entrepreneurship. So every entrepreneur has to decide for him or herself what is best in their business and situation. (researcher)
Today, the government imposes preconditions that have to be met. Within these conditions, farmers have the freedom to choose best fits and solutions for their own business. The focus on entrepreneurship has also affected advisory services. Dutch farmers are now used to surround themselves with advisors. However, since all advisory firms are private (meaning farmers have to pay for their services), farmers also seek advice from suppliers who will provide them with free advice. Of course there have been some debates about the independence of such advice.
Implementation of EU-FAS in the Netherlands
Farm advisory services are meant to “help farmers to better understand and meet the EU rules for environment, public and animal health, animal welfare and the good agricultural and environmental condition (GAEC)”. Every member state has to implement EU-FAS in their country to secure that advisory services include advise surrounding these EU rules. Implementation of EU-FAS is very limited in the Netherlands. For example, only strictly mandatory domains are implemented, advisors are unsure whether farmers are aware of the existence of the EU-FAS registry and no funding is provided for the implementation. An interviewed researcher describes EU-FAS implementation as follows:
It is not mandatory to go to a EU-FAS advisor, everything is voluntary. So the government does not steer in any direction. Farmers also find their own solutions by just asking the people who already pay visits to their farms anyways. For example their regular advisors or suppliers. (researcher)
Since the complete privatisation, the Dutch government wants to interfere in the advisory landscape as little as possible. EU-FAS has therefore been implemented complementary to already existing advisory services. Farmers and advisors also do not feel the need for stricter or more explicit implementation. As one advisor summarises:
I think Dutch farmers find their own way in their own network and the people they know. (…) In the Netherlands, it’s the case that a lot of people visit a farm who have a lot of knowledge. Advisors know what they are talking about, farmers themselves are highly educated, the vet pays visits and the accountant. (advisor)
The limited attention and
implementation of EU-FAS in the Netherlands fits with the belief of the government that the
Netherlands already has a well-functioning advisory landscape in which they do
not want to interfere too much. This example shows that implementation of EU policy is highly dependent
on national and/or local contexts. Understanding these contexts is the first
step in understanding implementation of policy in the different member states.
by Ellen Bulten, Wageningen Research