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What we’re learning about collaboration through tests and trials

Two people in conversation at an agricultural show

One goal of Defra’s Future Farming and Countryside Programme is to help farmers and land managers achieve bigger, better environmental benefits.

There’s a lot that farmers can do individually on their own land, but there are often circumstances where it makes more sense for several people or businesses to join forces and collaborate on something that benefits all of them, as well as the environment.

We want to encourage more collaboration like this.

To understand how to do that, we’ve been talking to farmers and land managers who are already collaborating, to find out what works for them, and what they would suggest for the future.

Different models for collaboration

There are lots of different models for collaboration. The following are just a few of the concepts we’ve heard about.

In Northumberland, the 23 Burns Collective of 52 farms have suggested creating a farmer-owned group to oversee joint environmental activities in the area. Under their proposals, the group would appoint a facilitator to support local farms; it would be jointly owned by local farmers, but perhaps co-funded by them and Defra. They thought that this would guarantee buy-in and accountability.

Members of the Barningham Estate Farmer Group in North Yorkshire took a different approach. They felt strongly that farmers are best placed to lead collaboration. Rather than bringing in an external facilitator, they suggest appointing a “lead” farmer from within the group.

Similarly, the Breckland Farmers Wildlife Network in East Anglia worked in self-managed “mini clusters” so they could look at how they could work with close neighbours. With the support of an adviser, each mini cluster reviewed maps of their farms to decide what to deliver and where. Most of the farmers found the mini cluster format helped them to have useful discussions with their neighbours.

Incentives for collaboration

Most farmers we spoke to said that funding would help make collaboration easier.

For example, the Breckland group supported the idea of a collaboration bonus. They thought that this would reflect the extra effort, time and resources needed for collaboration.

The 23 Burns Collective supported this idea, and suggested dividing payments into 3 parts:

  • a base payment for undertaking the work
  • a bonus payment if a farmer group can confirm that the work is delivering public goods
  • a collaboration payment to reward farmers for coordinating work with others

Other tests and trials have suggested that improved access to capital works funding would be a strong incentive. For example, to cover costs such as hedging or walling work. The Barningham group felt that this was a bigger driver than the possibility of direct payments made for collaboration.

Incentives can help overcome blockers to collaboration

We’ve had lots of feedback about how difficult collaboration can be. Just because 2 farms are adjacent, that doesn’t mean that they share methods, business goals or even soil types and ground conditions. It’s hard to identify objectives that will work for everyone.

This is why incentives are helpful: they don’t just help cover the costs of collaboration, but they help individuals and businesses overcome the inconsistencies that make it hard to start collaborating in the first place.

There’s more to learn

This research isn’t finished yet. In the next few months we’ll continue exploring how some of these collaboration models could be used in different sectors and geographies.

We’ll also be going deeper into the detail, to understand how specific incentives could work and which model they might follow. As we learn more, we’ll let you know here on the blog.

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