Publications

Use of organic inputs by arable farmers in six agro-ecological zones across Europe : Drivers and barriers

Hijbeek, R.; Pronk, A.A.; Ittersum, M.K. van; Verhagen, A.; Ruysschaert, G.; Bijttebier, J.; Zavattaro, L.; Bechini, L.; Schlatter, N.; Berge, H.F.M. ten

Summary

Soil organic matter (SOM) in agricultural soils builds up via – among others - the use of organic inputs such as straw, compost, farmyard manure or the cultivation of green manures or cover crops. SOM has benefits for long-term soil fertility and can provide ecosystem services. Farmer behaviour is however known to be motivated by a larger number of factors. Using the theory of planned behaviour, we aimed to disentangle these factors. We addressed the following research question: What are currently the main drivers and barriers for arable farmers in Europe to use organic inputs? Our study focuses on six agro-ecological zones in four European countries (Austria, Flanders [Belgium], Italy and the Netherlands) and four practices (straw incorporation, green manure or cover crops, compost and farmyard manure). In a first step, relevant factors were identified for each practice with farmers using 5 to ten semi-structured interviews per agro-ecological zone. In a second step, the relevance of these factors was quantified and they were classified as either drivers or barriers in a large scale farm survey with 1263 farmers. In the semi-structured interviews, 110 factors that influenced farmer decisions to use an organic input were identified. In the larger farm survey, 60% of the factors included were evaluated as drivers, while 40% were evaluated as barriers for the use of organic inputs. Major drivers to use organic inputs were related to the perceived effects on soil quality (such as improved soil structure or reduced erosion) and the positive influence from social referents (such as fellow farmers or agricultural advisors). Major barriers to use organic inputs were financial (increased costs or foregone income) and perceived effects on crop protection (such as increased weeds, pests and diseases, or increased pesticide use). Our study shows that motivating farmers to use organic inputs requires specific guidance on how to adapt cultivation practices to reduce weeds, pests and diseases for specific soil types, weather conditions, and crops. In addition, more research is needed on the long-term financial consequences of using organic inputs.