New ag research methods reach farm concessions

Living labs provide opportunities for global collaboration to solve complex issues in the agri-food industries

By Kate Ayers
Staff Writer
Better Farming

Agri-food groups around the world promote sustainability throughout the value chain and launch new efforts to tackle overarching challenges.

Through living laboratories, better knowns as living labs, farmers, advisers, researchers, consultants, and other stakeholders co-develop and test innovative solutions to complex agri-environmental issues.

This widespread collaboration helps to expedite and broaden the adoption of best management practices in the industry.

For example, the European Union’s AgriLink project aims to provide farmers with advisory services to support more sustainable production practices, the organization’s website said. Contributing members established this organization in 2017.

AgriLink includes 16 partners from 13 countries who work together to create innovative food production approaches, analyze the governance of farm advisory systems, and develop socio-technical scenarios, the website said. To complete these tasks, the organization launched six living labs to test best management practices.

“Living labs have become a broad concept for multi-actor-participation. It started in the 1990s with students working in regional development. They (collaborated) with locals and university staff,” Dr. Egil Petter Stræte said to Better Farming. He is the senior researcher for Ruralis, the Institute for Rural and Regional Research.

“However, the boost came when the European Union introduced living labs as a method (to stimulate) innovation in agriculture.”

Ruralis is an independent, non-profit research organization based in Trondheim, Norway, the group’s website said. The organization is an AgriLink partner.

The Ruralis research group studies ways to improve living labs as a method, Stræte said. Participants in Norway also use living labs to improve the effects of crop rotations on yields.

table meeting

    Dr. Egil Petter Stræte photo

The team cooperates with the regional agricultural advisory services to help farmers adopt more diverse crop rotations in their operations.

Two of the group’s largest challenges are incentivizing farmers to use this best management practice and collaborating in new ways with advisers and farmers, Stræte said.

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, the advisory service and living lab organizers cancelled face-to-face meetings but participants immediately connected and discussed findings online. The regulations have since relaxed to once again allow face-to-face meetings, Stræte said.

This living lab in Norway has experienced success in its journey so far, but Stræte cautioned that teams must do some legwork to ensure projects run smoothly.

“I think the living lab method has potential, but it is important to be aware of the conditions for running a living lab. It is a tool and a method that is not suitable for all issues and situations,” Stræte said.

“Living labs are (effective) for issues that have no obvious solution and where various stakeholders are involved.”

Other AgriLink living lab projects include cultivating sustainable corn in the Netherlands and Belgium, rebuilding a local food community in Italy, and improving ag advisory services in Spain.

More details about these projects and AgriLink’s work are available on the organization’s website. BF

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