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


Gers, France, is an agricultural district (Nuts 3) in South West of France. Gers is a highly agricultural and rural territory:  agriculture provides 12% of employment. It is the 8th French country (out of 100) in terms of field crops (CAO, 2017).  Since the early 2000s, the number of farms has dropped significantly (CAO, 2017): in 15 years, from 2002 to 2017, Gers lost 1,416 farms (a decline of nearly 20%). The average farm size has increased sharply, well above the national average, now standing at 86.5 hectares (against 63 hectares – AGRESTE, 2018). Gers is an agricultural area with a high level of crop diversification.

Region map

Gers is located close to Toulouse, a city that concentrates a large number of aerospace research and commercial companies. There is a strong connection between the city and Gers, as many commuters leave Gers every day to work in Toulouse (18% of the working population). We assumed that the presence of drones and satellite companies in Toulouse would have made Gers a county with a strong potential for the development of precision farming tools.Study focus

The study focuses on a technological innovation embedded in precision farming. Crop input modulation tools based on drones and satellite images give aerial pictures of the crops, which are turned into maps of agronomic indexes. An algorithm based on a plant growth model then generates crop input modulation maps. These maps are expected to propose the “optimal” dose of fertilizer to be sprayed, accounting for intra-field heterogeneity. The promoter of these tools thus claims that they constitute a crucial means to green agricultural production. Official programmes are emerging across Europe to foster their dissemination.

However, there are still controversies about the impacts of these technologies on the farming system, particularly its sustainability, and their assessment is a major issue. As farms are too small to conduct meaningful R&D activities to assess the potential of such technologies, R&D is mainly conducted off-farm, by intermediary actors, such as advisory organizations and applied research institutes. These intermediaries differ, but in many European countries they are still collective organizations controlled by farmers. This is the case in France with the Chambers of Agriculture and applied research institutes, which own experimental stations throughout the country, where the potential of new technologies for farmers is tested (new seeds, chemicals, etc.). Intermediary actors are supposed to play a major role in the development of new technological tools in agriculture by assessing their impacts and reducing the uncertainty around their use.

The aim of this survey is to better understand the role played by advisory organizations in the development and assessment of these technologies for and with farmers, and in farmers’ decisions to adopt them or not.

Full report is available here.

Partner and responsible person contact


Pierre Labarthe, pierre.labarthe@inrae.fr

National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE)

INRAE (formerly INRA) is France’s public National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment. The team involved in AgriLink involves three research units from the division Sciences for Action and Development of the Institute. INRAE coordinates AgriLink; the team has experience in former EU projects on farm advice, including PRO AKIS, and published various papers on these issues.

Lessons learned

1. Farmers’ cooperatives play a central role in farmers’ decision making. Overall, our results enable us to better understand farmers’ sources of information and services. They play a key role in triggering farmers’ decisions. The commercial proposition to farmers is decisive in their adoption of the technology, and trust between cooperative’s advisors and farmers played a key role in the process. It can be enforced by contracts with agro-industry that compel farmers to use digital technologies.

2.The assessment of the technology tends to be very short. Consequently, the assessment of the technology tends to be very short, and some farmers hardly used any external resources for this assessment. Nevertheless, the diversity of sources within farmers’ micro-AKIS matters: farmers who actively assessed the innovation tended to have a more diversified micro-AKIS. Surprisingly, we did not see many actors from outside the agricultural sectors (start-ups or high-tech companies) in farmers’ sources of services. Here new advisory actors were rather agricultural equipment dealers.

3.The Chambers of Agriculture play a rather limited role. On the other hand, the Chambers of Agriculture, para-public organizations (controlled by elected farmers’ unions but benefiting from public taxes), play a rather limited role. In total, farmers’ sources of advice tend to be more and more economically embedded in the innovation area. This means that services come from actors that do not invest in farm advice to compete on a service market, but for other purposes, i.e. selling digital technologies, collecting agricultural products, contracting more land from farmers who outsource their activities, etc.).