Main research question/goal
In this research project we aim to gain insight on how farmers participate in different networks, e.g. farmer’s unions, extension services, test centres and policy networks. How do these networks cope with the changing needs of farmers? How do farmers perceive these networks and which role do they see for themselves? How do farmers and other network stakeholders collaborate and when do strong partnerships emerge that can serve as a basis to initiate innovation? The final aim is to support farmers in their innovation process and to clarify the role of networks in that process. Research approach
We combine different qualitative research methodologies such as document analysis, interviews and focus groups. Our approach is unique: we do not depart from a general approach in which innovation is decoupled from the specific characteristics in each sector, but rather from a case-by-case analysis involving several branches of agriculture. We focus on six cases: organic agriculture, pig industry, poultry, broadened agriculture, hardy kiwi culture, and floriculture. Each time, case-specific aspects are included. We also explore what different networks can learn from each other. Finally we select the best case examples from abroad and analyze how Flemish activities can mirror these networks. Relevance/Valorisation
Farming and horticulture enterprises are confronted with the challenge to innovate in response to competitive forces and societal challenges. In their search for the right innovations farmers often need to rely on their personal entrepreneurial qualities. In addition, external factors such as market prices, technology and regulation are essential in the choice and evolution of innovations. The function of networks is, however, not well-known in both agricultural practice and research in terms of steering, broadening and strengthening innovation capacity. Networks can facilitate knowledge throughput and co-construct decision frameworks. In that sense they are central in determining both individual changes for innovation and external socio-economic conditions.