Topic: The role of intermediaries in farmers’ adoption of precision farming tools. The case of crop input modulation tools in the southwest of France.
Keywords: Sustainability – Decision support tools – Precision Farming – Intermediaries
Precision farming uses drones and satellite technologies to collect data and then develop decision support tools for farmers. One example is the use of crop input modulation tools that aim to support the “optimal dose” of fertilizer farmers have to put within each plot of the land.
These tools are presented as sustainable and their development is taking off while there still are controversies about both their economic performance and environmental impacts. Traditionally, intermediaries play a key role in the evaluation of innovations developed for farmers and the reduction of their uncertainty, through field experiments, networking etc. In many European countries, these intermediaries are still collective organizations controlled by farmers. However, precision farming technologies can change how knowledge and evidence are produced.
This paper aims at better understanding the effects of digital technologies on technical change in agriculture, by addressing the role of intermediaries. We focus on the ways farmers adopt crop input modulation tools to gain more insight on intermediaries’ role. We delimit our study in one focus region in the southwest of France, characterized by a high level of crop diversity and a wide range of rural actors, including start-ups proposing digital tools for farmers.
We conducted about 35 semi-structured interviews with farmers with different profiles (adopters of the innovation, non-adopters, droppers). We also made interviews with developers of innovation, Agricultural Chambers and farm machinery dealers. We attended events related to the development of precision farming in France: agricultural fairs, training courses in precision farming, robotics fairs, and local innovation cluster meetings.
We highlight two main results in this paper. First, we observed that intermediary actors do not reduce the uncertainty concerning tools’ impacts. The evaluation of the efficiency of the tool happens fast or not at all. Second, digital technologies seem to change the role of intermediaries. Adoption pathways are driven by the intervention of cooperative advisors, who behave more as retailers of technologies than as real knowledge intermediaries. Moreover, actors that are leaders in input and machinery industries tend to extend their role and are directly in contact with farmers to sell those tools. Finally, a tool’s adoption doesn’t seem to be triggered by environmental preoccupations nor by an evaluation of sustainability.