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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.



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 analysis of farmers’ responses to policy and market uncertainty; assessment of the effectiveness of the Monitor Farm programme as a measure to enhance uptake of best practice management techniques; estimation of external and internal factors impact on adoption of low input systems compared to high input systems and uptake of agro-ecological practices; development of tools/materials/advice for actors involved in the dissemination of sustainable worm control messages to producers; analysis of farmers’ perceptions of animal welfare best practice and capacity of Scottish livestock systems to deliver positive welfare best practice; stakeholders training and development of qualitative behavioural analysis (QBA) resources required for wider QBA roll out; analysis of risk and trade off scenarios involved in the adoption of integrated pest management (IPM); and consistent knowledge exchange activities linked to research.

Selected Outputs