Farmers willing to go green with financial incentives: study

Farmers are willing to take steps towards nature-inclusive agriculture, but only if there are the right financial incentives, according to a study by the Netherlands' environmental assessment agency PBL and the VU University Amsterdam among 950 members of farmers' association LTO, and another 150 farmers not associated with LTO.

Nature-inclusive agriculture is a form of circular farming, with the goal of ecologically sustainable food production. This type of agriculture strives to make use of natural processes wherever possible, and aligns business actions with the surrounding ecosystem as well as possible. 

The survey showed that 58 percent of LTO members have already taken measures for more nature-inclusive practices, such as extra grazing, flowering field edges, or the use of green manure. Only 18 percent of respondents have taken things further and implemented nature-inclusive measures in their business operations. 40 percent of farmers said they would take more measures, but believe there should be compensation for this. Farmers who are already taking nature-inclusive measures are more willing to go the extra mile. 

According to PBL, if the government wants to promote nature-inclusive agriculture, a combination of financial incentives will be needed. For example, a combination of reimbursement from the EU Common Agriculture Policy, and discounts on interests and other costs. 

PBL also advises the government to educate farmers better about this type of agriculture, and pay attention to the uncertainties that accompany the switch to nature-inclusive farming. The switch will often mean changes in their business operations and revenue models. 

"In any case, long-term security in policy, but also in financial incentives, is needed to provide farmers with the security needed to make their business operations, and therefore the Dutch agricultural system, more inclusive," PBL said.

According to LTO, this study shows that a majority of farmers is already taking steps to make their sector future-proof. "But it is also clear that measures must be economically justified. That cannot just be subsidies. The market, therefore consumers, will ultimately have to be willing to pay for it."