Farmers are the actor group that has the most direct relationship to agricultural soils and the most direct influence on their state. Contrary to perception by laypeople, but also policy makers (Brown et al. 2020), this group is quite diverse and encompasses many different sub-groups. 

Farmers can be divided into groups along multiple dimensions. These include:

  • Farm size (from small family farms to large industrial farms)
  • Ownership status (tenants vs land owners)
  • Farm type (arable, livestock and mixed farms)
  • Production approach (conventional vs organic farmers)
  • Behavioural characteristics and values (see e.g. Braito et al. 2020)

Furthermore, the actor group “farmers” encompasses further strongly related and sub-groups that include:

  • Farming cooperatives
  • Farmers’ associations
  • Extension services/agricultural advisors (a group at the intersection between Farmers, Industry and State)

Farmers are the central actor group in the soil governance field. They are the ones who manage their land and soils in a specific way. While they are bound by economic factors and regulations, they have significant autonomy of decision how to manage their soils. Management by farmers is the source of almost all pressures on agricultural soils. At the same time, farmers are also most directly affected by soil degradation.
Multiple governance instruments are available to target farmers and their management of soils. These include general agricultural policy (e.g. Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union, CAP), specific regulations such as the EU’s Nitrate Directive and incentive-based instruments such as agri-environmental schemes. Furthermore, advisory and extension services play an important role, as well as investment support (e.g. for precision farming technologies; Barnes et al. 2019).

Economic constraints and incentives are central determinants of farmers’ behaviour and decision making (Bartkowski and Bartke 2018). However, other factors also have significant effects (see also Dessart et al. 2019). Particularly strong and consistent effects have been found for pro-environmental attitudes, goodness of fit of measures with previous practices and past experience (with similar measures). Conversely, the empirical literature provides mixed results for demographic factors and symbolic capital. There is a number of interesting yet understudied factors, including adoption of technologies, advisory services, bureaucratic load, risk aversion and social capital, social norms and peer orientation. Thus, non-economic factors influencing farmers’ decision making are relevant, as their consideration in combination with economic factors may well improve the efficiency, effectiveness and legitimacy of soil governance. 

Farmers are at the source end of the agricultural value chain. Usually, many farmers are faced by a small number of firms demanding their products – the processing industry, retail, increasingly also energy producers (bioenergy, biofuels) and chemical industry (bio-based materials). There is a significant imbalance in market power against farmers.

In Germany and elsewhere, farmers increasingly have direct relationships to consumers, without the intermediation by retailers. This mostly happens via farm shops (German: Hofläden), community-supported agriculture, but also agritourism.

The relationship between farmers and the state is twofold: on the one hand, they are a powerful influence group, especially through farmers’ association (in Germany particularly the Deutscher Bauernverband, DBV), who act in political processes as lobby groups on their behalf. On the other hand, farmers are ‘receivers’ of a large number of rules, regulations and incentives that limit or at least modify their operational option space. An important intermediary group is advisors and extension services, which can be very differently organized (public, private, non-profit; Knierim et al. 2017). They support farmers with achieving both private and public goals.

in progress ...

  • Barnes, A.P., Soto, I., Eory, V., Beck, B., Balafoutis, A., Sánchez, B., Vangeyte, J., Fountas, S., van der Wal, T., Gómez-Barbero, M., 2019. Exploring the adoption of precision agricultural technologies: A cross regional study of EU farmers. Land Use Policy 80: 163–174. doi:10.1016/j.landusepol.2018.10.004
  • Bartkowski, B., Bartke, S., 2018. Leverage Points for Governing Agricultural Soils: A Review of Empirical Studies of European Farmers’ Decision-Making. Sustainability 10(9): 3179. doi:10.3390/su10093179
  • Braito, M., Leonhardt, H., Penker, M., Schauppenlehner-Kloyber, E., Thaler, G., Flint, C.G., 2020. The plurality of farmers’ views on soil management calls for a policy mix. Land Use Policy 99, 104876. doi:10.1016/j.landusepol.2020.104876

  • Brown, C., Kovács, E., Herzon, I., Villamayor-Tomas, S., Albizua, A., Galanaki, A., Grammatikopoulou, I., McCracken, D., Olsson, J.A., Zinngrebe, Y., 2020. Simplistic understandings of farmer motivations could undermine the environmental potential of the common agricultural policy. Land Use Policy 105136. doi:10.1016/j.landusepol.2020.105136
  • Dessart, F.J., Barreiro-Hurlé, J., van Bavel, R., 2019. Behavioural factors affecting the adoption of sustainable farming practices: a policy-oriented review. Eur. Rev. Agric. Econ. 46, 417–471. doi:10.1093/erae/jbz019

  • Knierim, A., Labarthe, P., Laurent, C., Prager, K., Kania, J., Madureira, L., Ndah, T.H., 2017. Pluralism of agricultural advisory service providers – Facts and insights from Europe. Journal of Rural Studies 55: 45–58. doi:10.1016/j.jrurstud.2017.07.018