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Does knowledge of environmental performance change farmer's behaviour?

Does knowledge of environmental performance change farmer's behaviour?

2005 - 2009
Geert de Snoo
NWO - GaMON program NWO - GaMON program


  • Jerry van Dijk
  • Jinze Noordijk


Farming is by nature an economic activity which has a very large impact on biodiversity and landscape. Increased awareness of environmental problems associated with agricultural land-use has led to the design and implementation of agri-environmental schemes aimed at transition towards a more sustainable agriculture in many countries. An important part of many of these schemes is the conservation or enhancement of plant and animal species diversity on agricultural land. At the same time, the need for a more sustainable farming practice is also recognized by individual farmers. In the Netherlands, many farmers have organised themselves in collectives aimed at improving nature quality in the agricultural landscape over the past few years. The adoption of measures to improve nature quality on farms, however, is still a very individual and voluntary process.

Problem description

Steering sustainable behaviour on an individual and voluntary level is scarce in current policy. In most cases, farmers are steered into an environmental friendly direction by law and other governmental requirements or by offering financial incentives. In the field of nature and landscape conservation on farms there are also approaches on a voluntary basis. Up to now, it was not possible for the individual farmers involved to compare their efforts and results with other farmers. Furthermore, they have no reliable information about their own contribution to the environmental problem (including dominant factors and options to improve). In earlier studies on pro-environmental behaviour in office and household settings it has been shown that providing such information and confronting actors with the results of their efforts increased the chances of durable adoption of pro-environmental behaviour in daily practice. This was especially effective when access to information of one’s own performance was accompanied by social support, enabling comparison of results between individuals, sharing of experience and introducing a form of public commitment.
Development of an instrument to provide individual farmers with the possibility to benchmark their environmental performance against that of others may therefore be very effective to stimulate adoption of pro-environmental behaviour. However, such an instrument is not currently available and the question whether it can be really effective in enhancing actual biodiversity and nature quality on farms remains unanswered.

Research objectives

The objective of the present research programme is to investigate to what extent individual feedback regarding one’s own environmental performance in different social settings can change farmers' behaviour and in the end can promote biodiversity and landscape quality. The core of this incentive concerns benchmarking of the performance of individual farms, for which a tool is being developed.

This tool will give individual farmers information concerning the main biodiversity and landscape aspects at their own farm, compared to the existing distribution of these aspects amongst other relevant farms (e.g. in the same region). The tool is also used to provide information on how to improve performance. Benchmarking is currently performed using individual farm feedback reports. An example of such a report can be found under "Downloads ".
In the course of the project, the benchmarking tool will be converted to an interactive tool on the internet, comparable with a recently developed internet tool to benchmark pesticide use (available at www.agriwijzer.nl , Advies - Bedrijfsvergelijking).


The present research programme consists of two research projects which together form a multi-disciplinary approach to the problem. The first project will focus on social-psychological behavioural aspects of benchmarking and knowledge use while the second project will focus on the ecological aspects involved.

  • In the first project, relevant social psychological factors such as public commitment will be tested experimentally. Results of these laboratory studies will be used a field experiment, testing the effectiveness of the benchmarking tool with test groups of farmers using the tool in different social settings: one group using the benchmark tool, one group using the benchmark tool combined with social support and one control group without access to the tool and without social support. Social support is expected to moderate the effect of the benchmarking tool. One group of farmers will therefore be given the opportunity to discuss their possibilities for sustainable farming in a group setting. For this group, changes in attitudes and behavior are expected to be the greatest. Pro-environmental attitudes and behaviour of these farmers over time will be compared with the control group of farmers who did not have access to the tool.
  • The second project will test whether alterations in pro-environmental attitudes and behaviour also lead to increased biodiversity and nature quality on the farms involved. Thereto, the input from farmers using the benchmark tool and data collected from the control farms will be used to identify differences in temporal trends in the main biodiversity and landscape aspects between the three groups. For a selection of farms from each test group, species diversity of several groups of organisms in different landscape elements will be assessed in the field to provide data on effectiveness of the instrument in steering actual species diversity on farmland.

Composition of the research group

  • Program supervisor:
    Prof. Dr. G.R. de Snoo
    (Institute of Environmental Sciences, dept. of Conservation Biology)
  • Project 1 - supervisors:
    Prof. dr. E. van Dijk
    (Leiden University, dept. of Social and Organisational Psychology)
    Dr. H. Staats
    (Leiden University, dept. of Social and Organisational Psychology)
  • Project 1 - PhD researcher:
    Drs. A. M. Lokhorst
    (Leiden University, dept. of Social and Organisational Psychology)
  • Project 2 - researcher:
    Dr. J. van Dijk
    (Institute of Environmental Sciences, dept. of Conservation Biology)


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