Topic: Digitalization of advisory services in agriculture: towards new cooperation between farmers and advisers?
Keywords : cooperation, advisory services, digital agriculture
In a context of renewed climatic, economic and environmental challenges, the agricultural sector is facing strong incentives to engage an agro-ecological transition. The agro-industrial model is “greening” its techniques (Di Bianco 2018; Plumecocq et al. 2018). Meanwhile, the strong development of digital tools appears to be a great opportunity to address complexity and agro-climatic uncertainties.
The digitization of agriculture has been little studied regarding the transformation of the consulting trades. In France, studies focus on the appropriation of digital devices by farmers (Laborde 2012), their uses of different tools (Agrinaute, 2015, 2017) or the way these uses actually transform their daily work (Mazaud 2017). As far as consulting organizations are concerned, it is more the performance rationales underlying the front-office or back-office activities that are analyzed (Labarthe, Gallouj, et Laurent 2013). The increasing size of French farms is leading to a growing demand on digital tools, as well as the large scale installations in the United States, Northern Europe or Australia require more sophisticated support (Purseigle et al. 2017). Studying the “complex” innovations of precision agriculture, Eastwood (2017) invites us to observe how digital technologies induce a reconfiguration of professional networks, both in defining the roles of each and in the nature of established alliances. Meanwhile, Carolan (2018) points out that digital technology can induce attachments or dependencies between customers and service providers. What about France? How does digital agriculture transform the work, the arrangements or the logic of action of the advisers and their organizations?
Based on a detailed case study of how digital agriculture is implemented within big French cooperative (22.000 farmers), this communication focus on the transformations of the consulting relationship to farmers, brought about by digital tools in advice services. We conducted surveys with farmers and technical salesmen on a three-year participatory research program (PhD program). We analyze the collected information combining rural sociology and the sociology of work and professions. First, we points out how digital agriculture transforms both the ways of looking at, considering, evaluating and acting on the technical object. Then we show that digital tools enable new forms of cooperation between the technical salesmen. Finally, digital technologies are transforming the relations between market players, which develop new forms of cooperation and jointly restructure their service offer. Digital agriculture appears to be integrated either in highly sophisticated top-down approach or in collective practice groups, where farmers are given a central role in choice of indicators. Digital technology therefore question the durability of changes implemented, and the future division of roles between farmers and advisers. Our communication aims to enlighten research programs in the social sciences.