What was the challenge/ problem that was addressed?  

The Province of North-Brabant faces complex challenges in terms of emissions from livestock farming, desiccation and reduced biodiversity that affect natural areas and resources. Spatial developments like housing, infrastructure and the energy transition put pressure on the available space in the Province. (Inter)national and legislation on N2000-natural areas requires (spatial) intervention to make sure goals for nature development and conservation are achieved. For all these issues, multiple parties need to cooperate in order to achieve results.

This complex, multi-faceted problem requires cooperation, in-depth exploration of the goals that need to be achieved and the interconnection between these goals: futureproof farming, improved biodiversity and a better state of the natural areas.

The agricultural sector is also very much involved and addressed in these issues. The Province of North Brabant wants to acquaint itself with the perspectives of farmers, and therefore they asked ZLTO to set up a project to approach farmers with a specific set of questions. These questions are instrumental in creating an overview of the area of the farms in (e.g. size and location of the farm, no. of animals, participating in other projects) and their ideas and plans for the future (e.g. wish to grow, wish to resettle elsewhere, will they end their business continue and make investments?).

How did you solve the challenge/ problem?

The approach mentioned in the above section is a only a tool to address the questions related to spatial developments. It helps farmers to be ‘activated’ to think about their future, and it helps the Provincial government to get an idea of what the agricultural sector will look like in the future, and how these developments fit in the challenges they face.  The challenge that is solved in this case is the knowledge gap that exists, on farmers’ futures and the sentiment in the area. For the interviews, experienced agricultural advisors from ZLTO visited individual farmers in specific areas (the areas around N2000-natural areas), since these areas are prioritized by the Province to make spatial changes that will improve conditions related to emissions, hydrology and nature development.

What is innovative in your practical case?

The innovation in this case study is a newly developed structured approach on different levels:

-advisors-farmers: creating a safe, open atmosphere in ‘kitchen table discussions’, which enhances the farmer to bring ideas on innovation to the table, so that connections can be made with other farmers and stakeholders. After a structured inventory, different innovation pathways are discussed with the farmers’ families
-advisors-government: results from interviews with farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs are integrated to a overview of the current situation and potential developments, using the innovative power of the farmers. This overview facilitates a more open discussion between government and sector on restrictions and stimulants on innovation.

-advisors-advisors: A new process was designed to make sure a uniform approach was used in the interviews, followed by a structured analysis of the information.

-organisation-organisation:  the rare partnership between farmers  organization and a specialized non-agri consultancy service (ZLTO and RoyalHaskoningDHV, a consultancy that specializes in hydrology and ecology) is  innovative, because   context-driven process management by agri-advisors is combined with the more formal/professional approach (secured with iso-certificates) of big consultancy firms. approach.

Compared to other regions in Europe and even to other Dutch provinces, it currently turns out that with this case we are the forefront of addressing the very complex issue of livestock farming emissions and related issues (e.g. nature development, biodiversity and climate change). Other provinces are learning from this approach in order to apply it themselves.

What are success factors in solving the problem? 

Success factors in this case are:

  • Very experienced advisors
  • Close contact with the farmers (be trusted)

Unexpected failures, if any.

No unexpected failures occurred. The approach was set through ‘learning by doing’. Therefore it has changed somewhat over time since we first started taking interviews in the first areas. Changes were made in the questionnaires, and in the style of reporting.

Lessons learned.

Lessons learned in this case are:

  • Skills on information management: how to gather, analyze and report on data in an efficient and effective way;
  • How to combine the government wish to get overview of a region with opening potentials of innovation on farm
  • Skills on how to best communicate with different parties.

What role does the advisor or advisory service play within your practical case? 

The advisors are key to the success of the case: they build trust with the farmers, they ask the right questions and they find the common ground in the answers they get from the farmers. Their contribution to the process is invaluable. Apart from that, the advisors and project managers make sure the process is coordinated properly, timely and with the right parties.

To share experience and contact, please, write to ZLTO contact person Rob Schrauwen rob.schrauwen@zlto.nl