Friday, 11 October 2013

Farm advisers: how does their advice measure up?

Emilie Vrain, a PhD student in Environmental Science at the University of East Anglia explains about her research on advisers and diffuse water pollution

For many farmers Catchment Sensitive Farming might seem like yet another thing to think about.  At the moment, certain farm practices to help reduce water pollution are regulated, whilst others are being recommended as best practice. If farmers aren’t employing best practice, who might be well-placed to influence them, and persuade them of the need to make changes?    

I am currently working on the Defra Demonstration Test Catchment programme, which is all about identifying the most effective means of reducing diffuse pollution.  Land management practices are key to this and my thesis focuses on farmer attitudes and behaviours and the role of farm advisers in helping farmers to implement mitigation measures.

The research has given me a great opportunity to travel around the three regions of England - North West, South West and East Anglia, and talk to a wide variety of people who provide advice to farmers, such as independent agronomists, consultants, vets, water companies, environmental organisations, government staff, farmer networks and sale reps. The kinds of questions I have been trying to answer are:

-          Who recommends which mitigation measures where?
-          How do recommendations differ between sources of advice?
-          How effective are the recommendations/ is success rate monitored?
-          What is the most effective pathway to deliver advice (who and how)?

In addition, each year the Catchment Sensitive Farming initiative conducts a national telephone survey to collect evidence on the effectiveness of their scheme.  They have kindly allowed me to add two questions designed to find out the degree of trust farmers place in different advisers.  I’m hoping that this will provide a different perspective that I can compare with the results of the farm adviser interviews.

Then, this winter I will be carrying out more in-depth interviews with farmers to explore their perspective in more detail.  I want to find out their views on the most suitable source of advice for diffuse water pollution mitigation measures and whether advice alone is enough to prompt them to adopt particular measures.  If not, we need to understand what is needed to encourage them to change their land management practices.

To find out more about the research contact Emilie Vrain

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