AgriLink Crop rotation between farms: Developing innovation support services and tools - AgriLink

Crop rotation between farms: Developing innovation support services and tools

Trøndelag County, Norway
The objective of the Norway Living Lab is to support development of an advisory service supporting cooperation between farmers in order to build a shared diverse rotational system in production, including different species of grain, ley (i.e. grass), potatoes and/or vegetables - and thereby improve the agronomical practice.
The county is localized in Central Norway and is one of the three most important regions for agriculture in the country, with 5,600 farms.

Dairy farming (1,490 farms) and grain production (2,150 farms) are the most common productions. A significant proportion, 31%, of the arable land is used for grain production (44,400 ha). The crop rotation includes annual crops only, barley being the predominant specie occupying 85% of the area for grain production (oat 10%, wheat 5%). Approximately 1.5% of the arable land is used for potatoes and vegetables. Despite a relatively high level of specialization, areas used for different plant productions are in this area closely located to each other.

Theme and target group
Methods and tools for agricultural advisers to motivate and support farmers to increase the crop rotation both on farm and between farms.

The Living Lab is a part of a project Crop Rotation owned by the Norwegian Agricultural Extension Service Trøndelag, a farmer owned cooperative. Advisors in the cooperative and farmers in the region are the main target groups.

A diverse crop rotation is expected to improve soil fertility, plant health and yields, reduce the need of fertilizers and pesticides, and consequently improve the economic benefit for the farmer compared to a crop rotation with e.g. barley only. The fact that neighbor farms, each producing grain, grass or vegetables only, are narrowly located, more divers crop rotations may potentially be achieved by co-operation between the farms.

The grass producing farmer may, by such co-operation, grow his/her grass on the neighbor field for a certain period, whereas the neighbor grows potatoes or barley on the grass farmers’ fields during the same period. Through this measure, the Crop Rotation project and the Lab aims at improving agronomic knowledge and practice, leading to increased produce per hectare, reduced costs, and hopefully more climate-friendly grain farming.

Aim of the Living Lab

The objective of the Living Lab is to support development of an advisory service supporting cooperation between farmers in order to build a shared diverse rotational system in production, including different species of grain, ley (i.e. grass), potatoes and/or vegetables – and thereby improve the agronomical practice.

Partner and responsible person contact

Ruralis

Egil Petter Stræte, egil.petter.strate@ruralis.no

Gunn-Turid Kvam, gunn.turid.kvam@ruralis.no

Ruralis works together with the Norwegian Agricultural Extension Service Trøndelag (Astrid Johansen, astrid.johansen@nlr.no)

The Living Lab story

The Living Lab (LL) started autumn 2017 and is planned to end summer 2020. Involving established organizations in work with Living Labs may be a challenge but it is a great advantage to make a long-term effect after a project is ended.

The first phase with establishing a LL incorporated in a larger project and organization was dominated with establishing communication, trust, and to organize working routines. Further, various dialogues were developed. One has been a dialog between advisors and farmers, where advisors contacted two groups of farmers with experience in crop rotation.

These are two pilots of the LL, and the aim is that advisors learn from experience working with these farmers. The second dialogue is between researchers and farmers, where researchers have contacted farmers joining the pilots and other farmers with experience in the field. During personal and focus group interviews researchers gained knowledge about conditions for cooperation and discussed elements of a new service.

The third dialogue is between advisors and researchers in project meetings to share knowledge and experience from the dialogue with the farmers, to reflect on these and discuss input to a new advisory service. Different conditions have delayed the co-creational nature of the work. The Crop Rotation project was in first half of project period re-organised involving new ownership, a new project leader and a reduction of budget and activities.

Other conditions, such as lack of knowledge and experience in working in a LL and the fact that the advisers have not been able to prioritize the project among several other tasks, has influenced progress. For researchers it has been challenging getting involved in the project due to constant changes of project conditions and people involved.

It takes time to get to know each other, develop reciprocity, openness and trust, which is decisive for the co-creation of a successful LL. In 2019 and early 2020, before Covid-19, the project and the lab were working well. In March 2020 with Covid-19 restrictions it is hard to know how the continuation will be.

Lessons learned
1 Existence of the problem
The participants must recognize that something is a problem, or there is an opportunity to exploit. Without such a recognition there is no basis for establishing a Living Lab -process.
2 Potential and solutions
Participants must recognize that there is a potential for improvement and a new solution can be developed by co-operation between various partners. If problem owners consider it is unnecessary to involve multiple actors, a Living Lab with a broad partnership is not necessary
3 Ownership and budget
Key participants must take ownership of the process and possible solutions. Without ownership, it will be difficult to co-operate and make progress. We have learned that a Living Lab must be realistic to carry out, owners of the Living Lab must define a project that fit their needs and funding must be in place before starting. Motivation, engagement and ownership of the project among leaders of the advisory service; leader group, project leader and Work Package leaders are important. For participants it's important that they have a budget and that their contribution is well defined.
4 Facilitation and cooperation
A facilitator for the process may be an important support. The facilitator must have the necessary competence and independence to assist in a positive way for the participants and those who have ownership of the work. Mutual trust is needed. By several reasons, crop rotation co-operation is not necessary an activity farmers is focusing on. Important conditions/factors may be missing for the motivation of such co-operation. In such situations, it is important to adapt the Living Lab and change the approach to farmers and focus on their needs.
5 Advisory service
Establishing an advisory service on crop rotation across farm units is complex and demanding. By reorganising plans we increased attention on understanding conditions for crop rotation across farms and learning and increasing competence. We have recognised it is important that the advisors have competence to establish and run group advisory service, as well as competence and tools to facilitate group processes. Diverse crop rotation systems require cross-disciplinary knowledges which may be challenging for even the advisors who are often specialised within the different plant productions.

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