Have farmers had enough of experts?

Niki A. Rust, Petra Stankovics, Rebecca M. Jarvis, Zara Morris-Trainor, Jasper R. de Vries, Julie Ingram, Jane Mills, Jenny A. Glickman, Joy Parkinson, Zoltan Toth, Regina Hansda, R McMorran, Jayne Glass, Mark Reed*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Abstract

The exponential rise of information available means we can now, in theory, access knowledge on almost any question we ask. However, as the amount of unverified information increases, so too does the challenge in deciding which information to trust. Farmers, when learning about agricultural innovations, have historically relied on in-person advice from traditional ‘experts’, such as agricultural advisers, to inform farm management. As more farmers go online for information, it is not clear whether they are now using digital information to corroborate in-person advice from traditional ‘experts’, or if they are foregoing ‘expert’ advice in preference for peer-generated information. To fill this knowledge gap, we sought to understand how farmers in two contrasting European countries (Hungary and the UK) learnt about sustainable soil innovations and who influenced them to innovate. Through interviews with 82 respondents, we found farmers in both countries regularly used online sources to access soil information; some were prompted to change their soil management by farmer social media ‘influencers’. However, online information and interactions were not usually the main factor influencing farmers to change their practices. Farmers placed most trust in other farmers to learn about new soil practices and were less trusting of traditional ‘experts’, particularly agricultural researchers from academic and government institutions, who they believed were not empathetic towards farmers’ needs. We suggest that some farmers may indeed have had enough of traditional ‘experts’, instead relying more on their own peer networks to learn and innovate. We discuss ways to improve trustworthy knowledge exchange between agricultural stakeholders to increase uptake of sustainable soil management practices, while acknowledging the value of peer influence and online interactions for innovation and trust building.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Management
Early online date11 Oct 2021
DOIs
Publication statusFirst published - 11 Oct 2021

Keywords

  • Social media
  • Social learning
  • Trust
  • Soil management
  • Technology adoption
  • Innovation
  • Sustainable agriculture

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