On-farm demonstrations: deepening farmer-to-farmer learning mechanisms
Improving the sustainability of European farming systems and facilitating their transition is a key objective of the Common Agricultural Policy and of Horizon 2020. Research and innovation activities should play a key role in efforts to move towards more sustainable and resilient production systems, but often this is undermined by the lack of efficient approaches to convince the farming community and demonstrate the validity of innovative knowledge. Best practices often remain tacit knowledge within local communities and are not spread across the EU territory or made known to researchers. Also, it is recognised that a farmer’s main source of information is other farmers, and their experience and opinions are often decisive.
Demonstration and pilot farms have a major role to play in the application of scientific findings and the spreading of best practices and innovative farming approaches within the farming community. Efforts are needed to develop their potential and prepare for European connectivity. Condition for effective peer-to-peer learning is that the demonstration farm operates under the same conditions as average commercial farms, i.e. subject to normal regulatory constraints and using the alternative production systems or agricultural practices/technologies in the course of its normal commercial farming activity.
Proposals should involve producing a geo-referenced inventory of existing demonstration farms, providing an analysis of the key elements of efficient demonstration techniques and exploring the potential of farmer-to-farmer learning. In a first step, activities should map open commercial farms that engage in demonstration activities in Europe and describe the mediation techniques they apply. This inventory should be organised around a list of sectoral themes (focusing on specific primary products, e.g. crops, livestock, etc.) and also non-sectorial/cross-cutting themes (e.g. specific farming systems, energy saving, supply chain initiatives, care farming, etc.).
From this inventory of open farms, proposals shall take a broad range of cases with a geographical coverage representative of EU agricultural sectors, systems and territories. They will analyse the various types of demonstration farms and programmes that use a commercial farm setting, looking at what they do, how they do it, who plays what role, and what is the impact. Project activities should result in a better insight in approaches and policies to encourage effective demonstration activities, and add value in this respect to the European Innovation Partnership "Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability", its networking activities (e.g. EIP Focus Groups) and its Operational Groups.
To deepen understanding of effective demonstration activities, consortia will include a sufficient number of actors with practical experience of such activities, including, as a minimum, agricultural/forestry practitioners (demonstration farms) and intermediary persons/bodies organising or facilitating on-farm demonstrations. Proposals should fall under the concept of the 'multi-actor approach' and may involve a wide range of actors, such as farmers/farmers' groups, advisors, innovation support services, researchers, social scientists, EIP Operational Groups, national/regional networks and enterprises or other supply chain actors where relevant.
Proposals should provide input for and look for synergies with topic RUR-12-2017 to ensure that the inventory of demonstration farms and best demonstration practices resulting from this topic result in concrete thematic knowledge exchange activities across European sectors and systems under that topic. Projects should provide input to and liaise with the SCAR- AKIS Strategic Working Group.
The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU of up to EUR 2 million and a maximum period of 30 months would allow for this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude the submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.
This activity should produce a better overview of effective practical approaches for demonstration activities on commercial farms. An inventory of demonstration farms and an analysis of their techniques, and the policies supporting these, would promote farmer-to-farmer learning. The following impacts can be expected:
- an inventory of open farms engaging in demonstration activities in Europe, detailing the sectors, themes and topics on which they provide particular expertise, which feeds into the EIP-AGRI web-databases;
- a set of best practical approaches for demonstration projects and programmes that are effective in increasing application of innovative entrepreneurial practices and scientific knowledge;
- improved understanding of effective demonstration approaches, project types and programmes, and of the increased potential for knowledge exchange offered by farmer-to-farmer learning. This should cover both demonstration of research results and the spreading of best farming practices among practitioners, possibly accompanied by a limited set of appropriate indicators to measure the impact of such activities;
- recommendations for Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation System (AKIS) governance and policies on how to support effective demonstration activities;
- the adding of value to the European Innovation Partnership "Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability", its network and its Operational Groups; and
- a basis, organised around a list of themes, to support networking and learning among commercial demonstration farms in the EU territory under RUR-12-2017 contributing to a more competitive, sustainable and climate-smart agriculture and forestry.