The role of advisory services in farmers’ decision making for innovation uptake of variable rate precision farming technologies.


Aberdeenshire and Angus in the North-East of Scotland were chosen to be the focus region for exploring the uptake of precision farming in the UK. The region is well known for producing barley for the malting industry, potatoes for national and international markets as well as livestock producers and smaller mixed farms.

Region map

The NE corner including both Angus and Aberdeenshire together accounts for only 16% of the agricultural area for Scotland yet is responsible for a significant proportion of Scotland’s crops and livestock[1]. In Aberdeenshire, the main agricultural land use is for cereals (33%), oilseed rape (32%) and produces over 60% of Scotland’s malting barley. It is the large-scale production of crops (particularly barley and potatoes) in the region that makes it an ideal region to study the adoption of variable rate precision farming.

[1] See recent report produced in conjunction with local authority councils for the NE, ‘The Land Based Sector in NE Scotland’ March 2016, available at https://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/media/22087/land-based-sector-web.pdf [accessed 1 April 2019].

Study focus

This study focuses upon the adoption of variable rate precision farming technologies in NE Scotland in order to understand the sources of advice for farmers and the role played by advisors when it comes to making investments in new innovations.

Precision farming is seen as one innovation that can lead to more sustainable farming practices, bringing proposed cost savings, higher yields and environmental gains. However the cost savings are often disputed since the initial payment of new equipment and machinery as well as data management software can offset any savings from using the technology itself.

In total, 31 farmer interviews were conducted, of which 22 were adopters, 6 were non-adopters and 3 were partial droppers (only one technological innovation was dropped whilst others remained). Six AKIS suppliers were also interviewed based on their relevance to the farmers in our case study.

Full report is available here.

Partner and responsible person contact

James Hutton Institute

Christina Noble , christina.noble@hutton.ac.uk

James Hutton Institute (JHI), Aberdeen, Scotland.

Lessons learned

1.The largest determinant of adoption of precision farming technologies was farm size. Our research suggests that the largest determinant of adoption of precision farming technologies was farm size – only farms over a certain size (typically over 200 HA) are large enough to see a timely return on the relatively large investment required. Farmers with a pre-disposition towards new technologies and “gadgets” are also quicker to adopt.

2.The immediate cost savings is important to implementing this technology. Lime spreading by variable rate precision farming was consistently adopted and retained for all the adopters in our case study, with farmers and advisors both affirming the immediate cost savings to implementing this technology.

3.Advisory challenges in the UK relate to fragmentation. Advisory challenges in the UK relate to fragmentation which came about as a result of commercialisation and later privatisation of originally state-funded and organised agricultural advisory services since the 1980s. Farm advice is structured, organised and financed differently in the four UK countries, with little exchange and alignment between the devolved governments, agencies and non-state providers. This leads to a diversity of advisory suppliers and in our case study advice was delivered mainly through agronomists, representatives from private chemical input companies, agricultural college branches in the region and various course lecturers and speakers, demonstrations at agricultural shows and neighbouring farmers.

4.Advisors with most success in supporting adoption tend to be commercial companies offering soil sampling trials. Advisors with most success in supporting adoption tend to be commercial companies offering soil sampling trials (often with trusted existing relationships with the farmers). It is these trials which provide tangible evidence to the farmers that the innovation can reduce their costs, thereby acting as the most effective trigger in this case study.

5.A close and trusting relationship is important. Crucially an advisor and not the company/ organisation was named who became the responsible person for the farmer’s adoption of the technology, thus suggesting a close and trusting relationship. Aside from commercial companies, neighbouring farmers and pioneers of the technology in the region were noted as being main sources of advice for the farmers in our case study.