Exploring transitions towards sustainable farming practices through participatory research: The case of Danish farmers’ use of species mixtures

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CONTEXT: There is a widespread acknowledgement that research should be supporting farmers’’ transition processes towards more sustainable farming systems by applying participatory research approaches. However,
scientific papers dealing with participatory research on farming systems seldom include a reflection on the outcome of these processes or the methodological implications of such an aim.
OBJECTIVE: The aim of the research process presented in this paper was together with a group of Danish farmers to explore the potential use of species mixtures in their own farming contexts by following several participatory research principles.
METHODS: 16 farmers volunteered to participate in the joint research process initiated by on-farm experimentation with a diverse catch crop mixture. The paper presents seven activities of the research process carried out
using a variety of quantitative and qualitative methods such as an applied game, farm visits, on-farm experimentation, common evaluations and discussions. The authors have analysed the process as a case study using
three levels of empirical observations and descriptive narratives.
RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: The authors found that the farmers were involved throughout the two-and-a-halfyear study period and experimented with species mixtures using different strategies. With the researchers, they
identified and challenged structural, agronomic, technical and social barriers, and investigated the potential of species mixtures adapted to local conditions. The case study revealed that both farmers and researchers need to take on new roles, with farmers needing to invest their resources and time to come up with valuable data and knowledge. Similarly, researchers need to facilitate the explorative research process by meeting farmers’’ needs
while being able to draw valuable scientific conclusions. This requires new skills that have not traditionally been valued in agricultural sciences.
SIGNIFICANCE: This study demonstrates that the barriers to changing farmers’’ cropping practices are not necessarily due solely to technical challenges or a lack of knowledge. Instead, researchers need to look beyond
the farm gate and involve other actors in unlocking the potential of an increased use of species mixtures.
TidsskriftAgricultural Systems
StatusUdgivet - apr. 2021

Bibliografisk note

Funding Information:
Partially stimulated by the EU requiring the involvement of multiple actors in projects funded by the Horizon 2020 programme ( EIP-Agri, 2017 ), there has been a participatory shift in farming research. In order to resolve the complex task of supporting the sustainable transition of farming systems, researchers today are increasingly called upon to combine scientifically grounded information ( Klerkx et al., 2012 ) with farmers' contextual and holistic knowledge, as well as specific experimentations ( Šūmane et al., 2018 ).

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank the farmers participating in ReMIX for being involved in the project and for being so willing to share their insights, thoughts and experiences. Thanks also to the other actors participating in the research. The authors are grateful to Agrovi/GMSR for establishing the contacts with farmers, arranging demonstrations etc. and to FRDK for collaborating on communication with farmers and sharing ideas. Thanks to Niklas Buhl for illustration of Figures and Graphical Abstract. The study was funded by the EU Horizon 2020 programme (H2020-EU., grant # 727217 . The opinions expressed in this paper are not necessarily those of the EU.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s)

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