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Increasing uptake of best practice

Work Package 2.3 - Agricultural systems and land management

Research Deliverable 
2.3.12 Increasing uptake of best practice
Leading Ideas 
Climate and the Environment
Plant and Animal Health


Ensuring long-term behavioural change is essential to meeting strategic objectives for sustainable economic growth, food production, land use and environmental enhancement.  A range of interventions at Scottish, UK and EU level are now being used to overcome some of the hurdles towards improved uptake of technologies and techniques.  These include establishing monitor farm-type approaches (e.g. Farming for a Better Climate) for promoting best practice in resource use and carbon mitigation, increasing regulation to improve water and soil quality, as well as financial incentives and targeted information to promote protection of natural capital.  Examples of areas where regulation is a prominent driver of change are the management of on-farm nutrients, control for pest and diseases and improved animal welfare.  Other approaches have tended to promote uptake through financial or non-financial ‘nudges’.  Understanding how regulatory and non-regulatory (e.g. information, financial, social) interventions influence uptake of best practice and technologies may lead to improved competitiveness and long-term sustainability of farming systems and natural resources.

Aim of Research

The aim of research deliverable is to explore the uptake of practices which improve the efficiency, productivity and sustainability of land, crop and livestock management throughout Scotland. The research builds on previous work within the RESAS Strategic Programme and on collaborations with UK and international partners.



Animal welfare research focused on the practical application of tools to support best practice welfare in the supply chain and the in-depth analysis of societal perspectives on best practice animal welfare. The QBA app was successfully rolled-out by a major UK retailer, and utilised across six of their supply chains, resulting in on-farm use of QBA by producers, and wide public and media interest. A large survey of members of the public and farmers revealed deeper insights into what they consider best practice for animal welfare. On the whole, they prioritised the minimisation of health issues but both groups do consider welfare to be optimal when both health issues are minimised, and natural behaviours are promoted. The priority given to health issues and natural behaviours also varied according to gender, farming sector and the extent to which farmers believe in animal mind (i.e., sentience).

Quantitative causal analyses have been completed on factors influencing Scottish farmers behaviours and intentions to uptake agroecological practices. Using behavioural economic approaches and survey data, main behavioural factors influencing uptake of agroecological practices such as precision agriculture and integrated pest management included formal, informal and personal variables. Additional analyses on the constraints to IPM adoption, and on attitudinal and behavioural change and impact in relation to best and shared practices in farming communities participating in the Monitor Farms Scotland programme have been undertaken.

Resources and tools on sustainable roundworm control for various stakeholder groups have been developed and disseminated to the industry. The industry led Sustainable Control of Parasites of Sheep (SCOPS) manual has been updated, particularly around quarantine advice and testing for anthelmintic resistance.  Continued Professional Development (CPD) courses have been developed and presented to sheep and cattle vets. 

Work on the modelling framework to represent COVID-19 spread across the landscape including environmental as well as direct routes of transmission has been completed. Research in collaboration with visualisation experts to explore simulation runs and further development of the system; research software engineers to link the model to the SCRC FAIR data pipeline; and statisticians at University of Glasgow to develop Approximate Bayesian Computation approaches to parameterise the model from observational data, led to development of tools applicable to modelling land manager control of pests and diseases.


On-farm roll-out of the QBA app was accompanied by a joined stakeholder/SRUC press-release, generating extensive media coverage (BBC1 Countryfile, radio interviews, over 60 UK/international newspaper and website articles), and invitations to present QBA to Westminster Parliament and Defra. An article on QBA’s potential role in commercial farm assurance was published in ‘Livestock’.

Spatial COVID-19 disease spread model has been released to the science community via github

SCOPS manual has been updated and released at


Research focussed on qualitative and quantitative analyses of Scottish crop and livestock farmers’ behaviour and intentions towards sustainable production. Case studies focussed on stakeholders engagement on understanding of societal perspectives of best practice animal welfare and the practical application of tools to encourage best practice on farms; causal analyses of factors influencing sustainable disease control on dairy farms, livestock farmers responses to Brexit, and uptake of low input systems; development of an online course and manual guiding sheep farmers’ uptake of sustainable worm control; stakeholders’ engagement for social capital development through monitor farms; agent-based modelling of farmer’s behaviour in response to perceptions of disease risks via networks of influence.


Work engaging with stakeholders to increase understanding of societal perspectives of best practice animal welfare and the practical application of tools to encourage best practice on farms resulted in a new industry stakeholder coming on board to roll-out QBA (Qualitative Behaviour Assessment) and the development of a dedicated mobile app to enhance the practicality of QBA as a tool for supporting best practice animal welfare on farms.

A survey to quantitatively assess societal perceptions of ‘best practice’ in animal welfare has been designed and a representative number of responses collected. This builds on key findings from a prior stakeholder interview study on the importance of minimising health issues and promoting natural behaviours as key elements of perceptions of good animal welfare.

Surveys were implemented focusing on cereals and potato growers in Scotland and Ireland, and a workshop was organised to identify supply chains and barriers to/potential for IPM in the potato sector.

Findings of the study on stakeholders’ engagement through monitor farms indicate that effective facilitation is key to farmer engagement, learning, and co-production of knowledge that has local and regional significance; and the Monitor Farms programme supports social capital development and provides stimulus for new and enduring collaborative relationships.

Research has commenced in the area of agent-based modelling of individual behaviour e.g. farmers’ response to perceptions of disease risks via networks of influence, with a prototype having been designed.

A final positional paper has been generated following a stakeholder meeting on the sustainable use of long acting moxidectin. The outcome has been fed in to the SCOPS manual and used within industry guidance for anthelmintic prescribers (vets, suitable qualified persons and pharmacists).

Results of the causal analysis on disease control on Scottish dairy farms indicate that incentives to make this more sustainable may include access to private subsidies for disease testing and training, changes to animal health standards and regulations, increased pressure from welfare and environmental nongovernmental organisations, benchmarking, and technological development in testing and surveillance, genomics.

Findings from the literature review on institutional and structural factors influencing uptake of low input systems show that farmers agri-environmental behaviour is influenced by socio-economic factors from the whole supply chain. Results of the causal analysis on farmers’ intentions to increase uptake of legumes show that the main determinants are past changes and intentions towards diversification, agri-environment and investment in new technologies, and current legume uptake, followed by education, technological uptake behaviour, perceived influences on business management from prices, land availability and technological change, plans to continue with farming, profit and perceived usefulness of information sources.

Outputs ranged from academic papers to on-farm events, workshops, animations and trade publications engaging a wide range of stakeholders within policy, industry, advisory committees, rural communities and the public. Funding leverage – a BBSRC/AWRN grant - has been secured.


Research has further extended the understanding of decision-making with deeper investigations for understanding and measuring attitudes leading to information flow and targeted behavioural change. Engagement with industry and policy communities has continued and multiple datasets have been created to understand drivers and barriers of intentions towards best practice in Scotland. Research on factors influencing uptake of agri-environmental schemes and practices for preserving water quality found that uncertainties in the policy landscape have added to stasis in land use planning but also that successional issues enabled the transition to more agri-environmental outcomes. An interactive faecal egg count workshop was developed on the theory around sustainable roundworm control, roundtable discussions and hands-on practical advice on how to collect and process livestock faecal material and generate meaningful results for treatment decisions. Research on implementation of biosecurity highlighted the vulnerabilities and impacts to uptake of regulatory best practice in beef production arising from the decreasing and ageing farming workforce and the various added benefits of social support networks, including the relationship with veterinarians. Dairy farmers trialled the Qualitative behavioural analysis (QBA) tool on farm using the newly developed QBA app, and were able to pick up day-to-day shifts in their cows’ expressivity. Doing this, as one farmer said, “… has made me stop, look and think about what and how we do things on a daily basis, to try to implement changes that are practical and positive”. Knowledge exchange to communicate best-practice to help remove barriers to uptake for disease control included on-farm events and practical workshops for farmers and veterinarians, presentations and information points at agricultural shows, industry meetings, discussion forums, science festivals, a press event and Parliament reception, trade and academic publications, and animated films.


  • Research has engaged separate communities along the supply chain to engage them in the concept of ‘positive animal welfare’ and findings were written into policy briefings pointing to the potential joint benefits to humans and animals from improving positive welfare, which have raised media interest (e.g. The Scottish Sun, Food and Farming Future, The Herald and The National).
  • Ongoing research exploring principles underlying learning and change in relation to facilitated peer-to-peer learning opportunities, such as Monitor Farms focussed on three case study topics (soil assessment, collaborative working, selection of hosts), which allow a detailed look at how and why farmers might implement new innovations and practices.
  • Expanding upon the findings of previous years research a second stakeholder workshop was held in order to understand and overcome barriers to integrated pest management (IPM) uptake and, more generally, sustainable agriculture in the potato sector. This workshop focussed on mapping the innovation chain for both the seed and ware potato sectors and identifying pinch points currently preventing greater adoption of IPM, with retailing sector and regulation found to have the greatest influence.
  • Further research on uptake of arable precision agricultural technologies (PATS) using behavioural modelling suggests the high cost element of the initial investment and uncertainty towards the potential for improved profitability to recoup this investment as main barriers to intended adoption and technical support/training for farmers not currently using PATs, and regulatory pushes for those already using PATs as main incentives to increase uptake.

Research has further explored, though a multitude of approaches, the complexities of decision making, behavioural change and transfer of information to key stakeholders within rural economies. Members of the policy, industry and advisory community have been engaged to understand the more salient issues for ensuring uptake of techniques for improving sustainability and productivity within the land based sectors. Survey data on perceptions and behaviours of Scottish farmers in relation to animal health and welfare technological innovations evaluated through new statistical approaches suggest that statistical validation is essential to enable socio-economic research lead to reliable policy recommendations. Results from a behavioural analysis on main drivers for uptake of nutrient management planning show that attitudes and resource availability are significant and positively associated with farmers’ intentions towards best practice measures.  Panel survey data analysis of factors influencing dairy farmers intentions to intensity/extensify shows that some drivers e.g. policy (effect of past CAP 2005 reform) and market (2008-2009 shocks) have short-term effects and do not fully affect the trajectory of intensifying farms and more long-term structural effects occurring in dairy farming e.g. removal of dairy quota (and adding recent years of panel data) would allow assessment of long-term effects on the intensification of activities. Research involving monitor farm programmes found that most farmers consider a mix of expert and farmer-to-farmer learning suitable and many changed soil monitoring or management practices. Consistent knowledge exchange on best-practice to help remove barriers to uptake of disease control included events at agricultural shows, industry meetings, Science Festival, webinars, press communication, training events, on-farm participatory events and discussion forums, trade publications, and animated films.


  • A continued focus on precision agriculture technologies (PATs) led to identification of seven arable technologies leading to input saving and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in farming. Their uptake was found to be significantly influenced by informational and institutional/financial drivers, with the use of demonstration farming to support uptake being of potential benefit.
  • Collaboration with members of farming and consumer stakeholder groups was established to identify the issues within animal welfare management relevant to understanding best practice. Qualitative behaviour assessment (QBA) tools were developed and tested, and farmers were invited to express their views of these tools on paper and in a brief video document.
  • Analysis of online survey data  on farmers’ perception of the scale of anthelmintic resistance problem shows the need for better information around quarantine treatments, on-farm risk assessment and diagnostics using preferred knowledge transfer channels such as on-farm events, talks to students and vets, slaughter reports and events supported by processors and supermarkets.
  • An economic framework for evaluating returns to investment in agricultural projects which includes social and environmental benefits has been developed. A set of technologies devoted to mitigation of carbon were assessed using our tool to understand the rate of return to investment. The tools provide estimates of the direct benefits, such as impact on productivity, and the indirect benefits, such as mitigation of carbon. 
  • Mapping of the innovation within the barley sector identified main issues around current drivers of uptake of integrated pest management such as the concentration of plant seed and breeding companies and the influence of commercial agronomists and research, as well as limits on current spraying technology.

Research in the first year of the project examined the drivers of best practice uptake within the land use sector. Statistical and financial metrics and evaluation techniques to establish the extent of the social and economic impact of interventions have been developed to help understand the effectiveness of behavioural change. Quantitative and qualitative investigations linked to changes in policy support, the ongoing monitor farm programme and the role of gender and land ownership on land use change have been completed. A range of internal (socio-demographic and farm economics) and external (market and policy) factors influencing the nutrient use efficiency on farm have been estimated. Qualitative Behaviour Assessment (QBA) training workshops were held for focus groups consisting of dairy cattle farmers and other industry representatives to contribute to best practice in dairy herd health and welfare management, and to create workplans for rolling out QBA as a practical welfare assessment tool. Research on uptake of precision agricultural methods, namely machine guidance and variable rate nutrient application using survey data for wheat and potato farmers shows high levels of adoption across the East of Scotland, however most farmers stated only marginal effects of technological uptake on cost. Research involving monitor farm programmes to explore how effective they are in encouraging uptake of best practice in relation to soil and nutrient management techniques has commenced and is set to continue for the duration of the project.


  • Research to identify drivers of intensification or extensification of production on dairy farms, barriers to development of integrated pest management on crop farms, and helminth worm control on sheep farms has been completed and inform pathways to impact and knowledge exchange activities in future work.
  • ‘War of the Worms’ animated film launch at the 2016 Royal Highland Show to highlight the development and spread of anthelmintic resistance as well as the messages on sustainable methods of parasite worm control
  • A report reviewing the sources and content of biosecurity regulation for the beef industry has been finalised, identifying voluntary herd health and quality assurance schemes as the main sources of regulation. The work links to ongoing research in other parts of the programme to assess regulation as a driver of biosecurity behaviours and to characterise the effect of avian influenza outbreaks on poultry producers’ biosecurity practices.

Future Activities

Future research will focus on: development of agent-based modelling for socio-economic applications in agriculture and land management; evaluation of attitudinal and behavioural change linked to Monitor Farms; gamification of DigiFarm for learning and change; assessment of uptake of agri-environmental practice under green recovery scenarios; analysis of the differences in reach and effectiveness of approaches to crop related KTE pre- and during Covid-19 pandemic; development of  tools/materials for dissemination sustainable control messages; integration of research on alternative parasite control strategies to on farm practices via farmer networks; and translation of the ‘Good Life’ concept of animal welfare into practical stakeholder guidance.

Selected Outputs