To Innovate or not to Innovate? – A Danish Study on Conservation Grazing Schemes

To Innovate or not to Innovate? – A Danish Study on Conservation Grazing Schemes

A study on different options to improve a scheme on conservation grazing revealed that Danish farmers are not hugely keen on adopting innovative contractual approaches. Even though many of the Danish farmers feel the need to increase the ecological impact of the measures, they argue that this could be achieved by improving the existing schemes.

How relevant are findings from the Innovation Lab to the Danish farming community?

Contracts2.0 aims to develop innovative contracts between farmers or land managers and other public or private bodies, which help to strengthen the implementation of agri-environmental measures in agriculture. This is done mainly in the Contract Innovation Labs (CIL), which have a regional or local base. In our Danish case, innovative solutions for contracts on conservation grazing have been developed on the island of Bornholm, which covers 1.3 % of the Danish agricultural area and is the home of 1.2 % of the Danish farmers.

In our CIL, the farmers of Bornholm expressed interest in the integration of innovative components to boost the impact of the existing measures. However, are the novel solutions developed in a specific region also applicable in national contexts? To check the national applicability of the innovative approaches, we initiated a survey addressing affected farmers all over Denmark. 370 farmers, a little less than 10 % of all farmers currently participating in a scheme on conservation grazing, provided answers.


The Top 4 preferred options are old acquaintances

The question we considered as the most important, dealt with potential options to provide farmers with additional payments for additional efforts. Six different options were listed, and each farmer could choose up to three favoured options.

The option that farmers point to as most interesting actually already existed earlier (albeit to a limited extent) in older versions of the Danish scheme for the management of grassland and natural areas. More than four out of ten farmers indicate that they would be interested in obtaining additional payment for small areas and areas with difficult access, i.e. areas with relatively high management costs.

The second most popular option is to get extra payments for more specific requirements. Again, this is an option previously available in the Danish scheme with differentiation according to, for example, the use of fertilisation and grazing pressure at different levels.

Thirdly, a little more than one in three farmers is interested in obtaining additional pay out for following a management plan for the contracted area. Today, management plans are already a reality for a number of farmers managing publicly owned land, but the support scheme is currently not directly linked to the plan. The most frequent model in these situations is that the authorities lease the land to the farmer and that the farmer holds the contracts on conservation grazing and gets the payment for this.

In fourth place is a bonus payment for maintaining areas of high nature value (HNV) according to the map of the Agricultural Agency. At present, aid is not differentiated according to the HNV-levels of the land, as the HNV feature is only used to determine whether land outside Natura 2000 areas is eligible for enrolment in conservation grazing schemes or not.

What about the rest?

Only slightly more than one farmer in five would opt for a scheme offering an additional payment when meeting certain nature quality indicators. Slightly fewer than one in five farmers would like to see a bonus payment for high local contract coverage (agglomeration bonus). The latter has been tried for a period of time with a small additional payment of 10% for local coverage of more than half of the eligible area.

Additionally, two thirds of the farmers are interested in improving the management of grasslands in the conservation grazing scheme to improve or secure the nature content. Apparently half of these farmers are even interested in improving management without additional payments.

Conclusions from the Danish Survey

Three observations can be made from the results presented here. Firstly, none of the presented options alone would be attractive for the majority of farmers. Secondly, the contract option featuring an individual management plan, developed in the Innovation Lab Bornholm, scores relatively high in the survey among the farmers from other parts of the country. Thirdly, the options with innovative elements, like results-based payments or collective implementation score relatively poor.

For further reference, see our survey results in the Graph below.

Bottom line…

…tweaking the existing schemes can bring about desired results in terms of conservation grassland management. Many farmers are generally interested in improving management to improve or secure the nature content of the grasslands under agreement. The Contract Innovation Lab on Bornholm suggests integrating the innovative approaches in the implementation of nature protection management plans in the agri-environmental schemes on conservation grazing under the Common Agricultural Policy.

The survey which also covers farmers’ views on other issues of agri-environmental programs (e.g. checks/controls, advisory services) is reported in Andersen, E.: Landmændenes syn på tilsagn om pleje af græs- og naturarealer (original, in Danish). A reviewed English translation is available here

Willingness to collaborate in agriculture?  A behavioural experiment shows positive results

Willingness to collaborate in agriculture? A behavioural experiment shows positive results

Many environmental objectives in agriculture can be better achieved at larger spatial scales through cooperation among farmers. In the Netherlands agri- environmental measures are implemented exclusively within farmer collectives (“Dutch modell”), which develop regional management plans together with the authorities. In a behavioural experiment, we investigated German farmers’ willingness to collaborate with the aim to introduce such an approach to Germany.

The participants’ willingness to collaborate was high and exceeded the expectations of experts. These results provide first positive indications regarding the potential of collaborative agri-environmental schemes (AES) in Germany.

(German version /deutsche Version)

Motivation and goals

There is great interest in the “Dutch approach” of collectively implementing agri-environmental schemes (AES) , since many measures are more effective, when coordinated on a landscape scale, e.g. rewetting of peatlands, protection of habitats or erosion control. The  2019 report of the Scientific Advisory Council at the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture therefore also recommends: “(1) Examine the extent to which elements of the Dutch system of collective nature conservation arrangements could also be applicable in Germany; (2) improve the institutional prerequisites for the implementation of collective models of environmental and climate action; (3) in pilot projects in the current finance period, support the grouping of relevant local actors into ‘biodiversity-generating communities”.

However, little is known, about the willingness of farmers to collectively pursue environmental goals. We have investigated this basic willingness in a so-called public goods game.

The public goods game

The public goods game is a concept from game theory (theoretical framework within the field of economics). Players have an initial monetary endowment that must be divided between a private account and a group account. The money in the group account is multiplied by a number that is lower than the number of participants but greater than one. Thus, although it is in the interest of the group, players have no individual incentive to contribute to the group account, although this is in the interest of the group. The game can be used to abstractly study free-rider behaviour and cooperation. Thousands of laboratory experiments show that many people are willing to cooperate with strangers. A typical result is that participants contribute about half of their initial endowment to the group. The figure (above) shows an example with four players and an initial endowment of 10 euros.

The experiment and the survey of experts

Public goods games have already been carried out in many different versions in the laboratory. In our study, we discussed a selection of possible treatments against the background of collaborative agri-environmental schemes at a workshop during the Green Week 2020 in Berlin. In addition to a baseline version, four treatment versions of the game were selected from 17 alternatives for a study with German farmers:

(1) Baseline: four participants must allocate 50 euros between a group account and a private account. The amount on the group account is doubled and divided equally among all players.

(2) Heterogeneous initial endowment: participants have either a high or a low initial endowment;

(3) Leading by example: three participants can first see the decision of the first player and only then make their decision;

(4) Social norm: participants receive the information that many other participants have contributed high amounts to the group account;

(5) Social optimum: participants receive the information that it is in the interest of the group that everyone contributes as much as possible to the group account.

More than 350 farmers participated in our online experiment. Participants were randomly presented with one of the five options. Every tenth participant received a real payment depending on his/her own behaviour and the behaviour of the other participants.

Parallel to the study with the farmers, we asked more than 200 experts from science and practice to predict the behaviour of the farmers in our experiment. Three participants were randomly selected and received a payment depending on the accuracy of their estimate.


For each of the five treatments the figure shows in orange the distribution of the percentage that participants contributed to the group account. In all treatments the average is higher than 50% and, thus, higher than in typical laboratory experiments. The contributions do not differ between the treatments, with the only exception of the social optimum, where contributions are significantly higher and reach 80% of the initial endowment.

The distribution of experts’ predictions is shown in green. Experts underestimate the contributions of farmers by an average of more than twenty percentage points.

Diagram showing farmers' contributions to public good and expert predictions of farmers' contributions to the public good.

Figure 1 Distribution of contributions (orange) and expert predictions (green) Source: own calculations

First conclusions and outlook

The most important conclusion is that participating farmers show a high basic willingness to cooperate under experimental conditions. It has also been shown that experts assess the cooperation behaviour of the participants too pessimistically. In the Contracts2.0 project, we will now discuss these results with practice partners and gather insights into the potential of collaborative agri-environmental schemes and the so-called “Dutch model” in further studies. Among others, similar studies are planned in the Netherlands, Hungary and Poland. An English-language report describing this process is available for download:

Rommel, J., van Bussel, L., le Clech, S., Czajkowski, M., Höhler, J., Matzdorf, B., … & Zagórska, K. (2021). Environmental Cooperation at Landscape Scales: First Insights from Co-Designing Public Goods Games with Farmers in Four EU Member States.

Publication update: The full study has now been published (August 2022).

Title Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

Innovation in the field: The Bornholm CIL visit farms to explore Carbon Farming

Innovation in the field: The Bornholm CIL visit farms to explore Carbon Farming

On May 26, the CIL of Bornholm arranged visits to farms practicing non-tillage faming, Conservation Agriculture and holistic grazing. Twelve participants, farmers, advisors, authorities and researchers, visited three farms to learn more on these practices in relation to Carbon Farming. The participating farmers, both hosts and others, were very enthusiastic about these farming practices in relation to reducing the impact of farming on climate and for making future farming on Bornholm more resilient to climate changes. However, when discussing trade with CO2-certificates as a tool to support the farmers economically in adopting these practices, the farmers were very skeptical. They identified six major reasons for not contracting reductions in emissions and increased storage of carbon in order to sell CO2-certificates:

  • The economic incentive is far too low with currently expected prices of certificates
  • The administrative work is too time-consuming
  • Long-term contracts limit the room to maneuver in the strategic management
  • The model-based calculation of certificates is not reliable
  • The reduced emissions and increased storage of Carbon should be kept in the farming sector
  • Uncertainty of fit of certificates with future changes in the subsidies and regulations
Simplicity is key for an attractive scheme

Instead, the farmers want simplicity. They would like to see non-tillage systems, Conservation Agriculture and holistic grazing acknowledged as practices contributing to climate-neutral and climate-resilient farming and included in a Carbon Farming eco-scheme in the next generation of support under the Common Agricultural Policy. A few ticks in the right boxes of the yearly application for support should be sufficient paperwork.

In need for fresh ideas

In the CIL of Bornholm, we had the idea of developing new innovative contracts as an add-on/extension to an existing scheme on CO2-certificates, improving and adding elements to increase the uptake and the outcomes in terms of climate impacts of the contracts. However, the farmers currently do not see contracts based on the sale of CO2-certificates as an option for funding farming practices contributing to the development towards a climate-neutral agriculture. Therefore, for the Bornholm CIL the next steps of the Carbon Farming track is currently unclear. Bottom-up innovation is challenging and not always a straightforward process. 

Written by Erling Anders (University of Copenhagen), Photo: © Vivi Granby

Results-based contracts – positive feedback from UK farmers

Results-based contracts – positive feedback from UK farmers

Since 2016, results-based contracts have been trialled in two pilot areas in England – on hill farms in the Yorkshire Dales National Park and arable land in the lowlands of East Anglia. With monitoring data from four years of environmental performance and farmer attitudes, these pilot schemes provide a rich source of learning about the practical aspects, advantages and disadvantages of this novel contract approach.  DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) recently renewed the contracts for a further year.  This new phase will see farmers co-designing new measures and exploring opportunities to expand results-based contracts across the farms.

The University of Aberdeen, together with Contracts2.0 action partner Natural England and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, have recently surveyed participating farmers in the National Park to find out more about their views on key support mechanisms, barriers and management practices within the results-based scheme. They found that farmers welcomed the additional agency afforded by a results-based approach and recognised pragmatic benefits such as simplified paperwork and flexibility.  Participants appreciated good financial rewards for continuing or adapting sustainable management practices to maintain or improve habitat quality. Findings further indicate the perception among farmers that longer duration results-based contracts offer potential for greater improvements in habitat quality. Also, of great importance and value to the farmers has been the strong working relationships and consistent dialogue with the scheme’s administering bodies.

For more information of the trialled results-based schemes check our partner’s Website: Results-Based Agri-environment Payment Scheme (RBAPS) pilot study in England – GOV.UK (

For more on results-based examples check out

Written by Annabelle LePage(Natural England)

monitoring grassland
Visualizing future farming in the Dutch case studies

Visualizing future farming in the Dutch case studies

The Contract Innovation Labs in the Netherlands worked with an illustrator to produce a visual representation of the “dream farming landscape”, an imagined ideal future for the landscape and its agricultural landuse practices. This tool is used by the Innovation Labs to have a point of departure for identifying the changes that need to happen to make this vision a reality. In this blogpost, BoerenNatuur shares their experience with the process of developing a shared vision of the ideal future of farming.

Written by Lisa Deijl (BoerenNatuur)

Presenting the Dutch case: the collective contract

The Dutch case in Contracts2.0 is unique because it revolves around the only nation-wide fully implemented collective contract-model for nature conservation by farmers in the world. In the Netherlands, since 2016, this collective contract was set up by farmers and the national and provincial governments. Now, there are 40 collectives of 11.000 farmers who carry out this subsidy scheme for nature conservation. BoerenNatuur is the national umbrella organization of the 40 collectives, and the action partner in Contracts2.0. You can read more about what we do here:

As an action partner we are excited to be able to have the opportunity to study, together with research partners from around Europe, how the collective contracts are working and what improvements can be made. These questions we aim to answer in the Contract Innovation Labs.

Setting up Contract Innovation Labs

Just like the other Contracts2.0 actionpartners in 9 European countries, BoerenNatuur established a Contract Innovation Lab in the Netherlands. The Dutch Innovation Lab gathers people that have expertise with this contract model from working as a practitioner in the agricultural sector. In the case of our Labs, these are farmers and employees of the farmers collectives or nature organizations.  Because BoerenNatuur is the national umbrella organization of the 40 local collectives, we chose to organize not one but two Innovation Labs in order to get more insight in what different challenges the collective approach meets in different parts of the country. The Labs are located in Limburg (the south of the Netherlands, an area with varied land use and the biggest collective with the most budget and the most members) and in Oost-Groningen (the north of the Netherlands, an area with mostly arable agriculture and a smaller collective). To successfully set up the Innovation Labs within Contracts2.0 and engage local stakeholders, we received a great amount of help from the local collectives Natuurrijk Limburg (NaLi) and Agrarische Natuurvereniging Oost-Groningen (ANOG).

Visualizing the “dream farming landscape” in the Innovation Labs

The end goal of the work in Contracts2.0 Innovation Labs is to make policy suggestions for improved contracts. Formulating an ideal future for the farming landscape is a step towards this, as it helps to pinpoint the changes that stakeholders would like to see. But the process began with analysing the here and now: by carrying out a SWOT-analysis of the contracts under investigation. With all the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats laid out, we had a basis to start imagining the ideal future, the “dream landscape”. It was a very interesting process to try to come up with a coherent view for the local landscape in 2040, especially since there were different actors involved. After a while we were able to come up with a description of the dream landscape in 300 words, that everyone felt comfortable with.

It was then that Lenny van Bussel, our research partner from Wageningen University, suggested that we hire an illustrator to visualize the text describing the agreed upon dream landscape features. We thought it would be a nice gesture to the local stakeholders, to have a tangible product from this project that they had been working on. However, when the picture was presented to the groups, it turned out that people actually still had varying opinions. Apparently, words had hidden the different visions, but an actual visual rendition of the dream landscape drew them out again!

Keeping the conversation going

The reignited debate on the dream landscape in our Contract Innovation Labs was an unexpected result for us organizers. It showed us that working with the illustrator could have been a whole different path to explore when developing the shared vision of the dream landscape. We chose to make some small adjustments to the paintings, but did not aim for a ‘picture perfect’ vision, because this could have taken several more sessions. Instead we approach the visuals as a ‘praatplaat’ (a Dutch word for ‘a picture to use as basis for discussion’). This tool can help us in the discussions around the ideal future landscape and how to get there, especially when we engage with policy makers.

Local and regional policy makers have been involved in the SWOT-analysis of the current contract. However, they have not yet had the chance to react to the CIL’s dream landscape visualization. In the coming months, we will give them the opportunity to do so. First, we will present the visions in separate Policy Innovation Labs to inquire about the chances for the realization of the dream farming landscape. Secondly, over the summer, we hope to be able to organize ‘in person’ workshops in the respective regions with practitioners and policy makers , to present the results of the work  we did. We hope that these last workshops serve as an inspiration for local actors to continue working together also beyond the boundaries of this project, and to continue to keep the conversation going.