For those of you who could not join the RBAPS conference in Brussels at the end of September and for those who did and have more to say, we would like to encourage your contributions to the discussion we had on identifying what works from a farmers’ perspective.
The discussion focused particularly on:
– how best to engage farmers in results-based schemes,
– what makes a scheme attractive, and
– the nature of the advice and support needed.
What appeals to farmers?
Farmers in the room argued that a results-based scheme needs to appeal to a farmers’ sense of pride and responsibility. Joining a scheme must be perceived as more than having to comply with scheme requirements. If biodiversity can be viewed as a farm product this can generate a sense of pride in protecting or actively managing specific species and habitats.
The value of using labels and competitions to develop this sense of pride and responsibility among farmers was highlighted as well as its usefulness in spreading the word. The French “Prairies Fleuries” scheme, which hosts a major competition each year, has become popular with farmers in large part thanks to this competition. Involving the media and raising the profile of the biodiversity on farms with the general public, for example through local events and demonstration farms, were also considered important.
What makes a scheme attractive to farmers?
Participants stressed that all agri-environment schemes – not just those that are results-based- need to be voluntary and offer continuity (five to seven years commitment – or longer) to make them attractive. Important aspects of design for results-based schemes were identified as:
• Clarity about the scheme objectives, about how to achieve them and how they relate to the payment (including risk of non-payment).
• Freedom within the scheme to manage land and for farmers to take their own initiative and change management according to the situation.
• Stability and security in relation to the payment – there should be flexibility within the payment to adjust according to market fluctuations affecting the costs incurred by the farmer. Even with clarity about the associated risks of non-payment, a buffer to reduce the risk would make the scheme more attractive to farmers, for example having graduated payment levels depending on the level of results achieved.
• Fair payment in relation to the amount of work expected and requirements set out under other CAP payments. The payment should reflect the balance between effort and changes in management that are needed and include transaction costs.
What is important in terms of advisory support?
Participants noted that advisory support is often better accepted when given between peers, farmer to farmer. However, developing a sense of partnership between farmers, farm advisors and researchers was also seen as important and a good way of building greater commitment to achieving scheme objectives. One specific point emphasised was the need to integrate the advice from ecologists within the context of practical farming operations and to improve ecologists’ understanding of the realities of farming. Lastly, it was stressed that advice needs to be well-coordinated between government departments to avoid the risk of conflicting advice.
What other factors do you think are needed to make results-based schemes work for farmers? We are keen to hear your views.