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Farmer collectives for more effective agri-environmental schemes? An assessment framework based on the concept of ‘professionalization’

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Farmer collectives for more effective agri-environmental schemes? An assessment framework based on the concept of ‘professionalization’

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Agri-environmental schemes (AESs) have been implemented in many countries in Europe. However, there is mixed evidence about their effectiveness. Several studies in different countries suggest that AESs are more effective when designed at landscape level and implemented by groups of collaborating farmers (‘farmer collectives’). The EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has enabled groups of farmers to be applicants for and final beneficiaries of AESs subsidies for the period 2015–2020, but it is unclear what is needed for farmer collectives engaged in AESs to contribute to more agrobiodiversity. In this paper, the lens of ‘professionalization’ is used to conceptualize and operationalize the performance of farmer collectives. We have developed an assessment framework that facilitates the characterization and development of the degree of professionalization of farmer collectives. The ultimate aim is achieving ecological effectiveness of AESs by professionalization of the farmer collectives. The framework distinguishes three categories of professionalization: organizational, occupational and systemic, and provides a new lens for research on AESs. It can also be used by practitioners involved in AESs to provide insight into, and reflect upon, the performance of farmer collectives.
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Farmer collectives for more effective agri-
environmental schemes? An assessment
framework based on the concept of
‘professionalization’
L. Dik, H. A. C. Runhaar & C. J. A. M. Termeer
To cite this article: L. Dik, H. A. C. Runhaar & C. J. A. M. Termeer (2021): Farmer collectives
for more effective agri-environmental schemes? An assessment framework based on the
concept of ‘professionalization’, International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, DOI:
10.1080/14735903.2021.1950389
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/14735903.2021.1950389
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Published online: 11 Jul 2021.
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Farmer collectives for more eective agri-environmental schemes? An
assessment framework based on the concept of professionalization
L. Dik
a
, H. A. C. Runhaar
a,b
and C. J. A. M. Termeer
c
a
Forest and Nature Conservation Policy Group, Wageningen University and Research, Wageningen, The Netherlands;
b
Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands;
c
Public Administration and
Policy Group, Wageningen University and Research, Wageningen, The Netherlands
ABSTRACT
Agri-environmental schemes (AESs) have been implemented in many countries in
Europe. However, there is mixed evidence about their eectiveness. Several studies
in dierent countries suggest that AESs are more eective when designed at
landscape level and implemented by groups of collaborating farmers (farmer
collectives). The EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has enabled groups of
farmers to be applicants for and nal beneciaries of AESs subsidies for the period
20152020, but it is unclear what is needed for farmer collectives engaged in AESs
to contribute to more agrobiodiversity. In this paper, the lens of
professionalizationis used to conceptualize and operationalize the performance
of farmer collectives. We have developed an assessment framework that facilitates
the characterization and development of the degree of professionalization of
farmer collectives. The ultimate aim is achieving ecological eectiveness of AESs by
professionalization of the farmer collectives. The framework distinguishes three
categories of professionalization: organizational, occupational and systemic, and
provides a new lens for research on AESs. It can also be used by practitioners
involved in AESs to provide insight into, and reect upon, the performance of
farmer collectives.
KEYWORDS
Governance;
agrobiodiversity; EU
Common Agricultural Policy;
eectiveness
Introduction
Agri-environmental schemes (AESs) are the main
instruments employed for the conservation and
enhancement of agrobiodiversity in Europe. They
are designed to encourage farmers to protect and
enhance biodiversity on their farmland by compen-
sating them for implementing conservation measures
such as postponing mowing in order to protect
meadow birds and sowing ower-rich eld margins
(Runhaar et al., 2017). So far, AESs have been
implemented in all twenty-eight countries in the Euro-
pean Union (Eurostat, 2017). Recent data (Eurostat,
2017) indicates that the agricultural area under AESs
is almost 46.9 million ha, which equals 26.3% of the
agricultural area in use in the 28 countries. In the
period 20072013, EU expenditure on AESs was
nearly 20 billion EUR, equivalent to 22% of the expen-
diture on rural development (https://ec.europa.eu/
agriculture/envir/measures_en).
However, there is mixed evidence about the eec-
tiveness of AESs in terms of their contribution to the
enhancement of agrobiodiversity (i.e. species richness
and abundance in agricultural landscapes) (Batáry
et al., 2015; Kleijn et al., 2001; Kleijn et al., 2011;
Kleijn & Sutherland, 2003; RLI, 2013). As a conse-
quence, much research has been conducted on how
the eectiveness of AESs can be enhanced. In the lit-
erature, two distinct research perspectives are
© 2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
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is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.
CONTACT L. Dik lyda.dik@wur.nl Forest and Nature Conservation Policy Group, Wageningen University and Research, P.O. Box 47,
6700AA Wageningen, The Netherlands
Research aliation: Wageningen University and Research, The Netherlands.
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF AGRICULTURAL SUSTAINABILITY
https://doi.org/10.1080/14735903.2021.1950389
apparent: an ecological-technical perspective and a
social science perspective. The rst perspective is
focused on achieving the best ecological conditions
by optimizing conservation measures (Carvell et al.,
2015; Grass et al., 2016;Melmanetal.,2016;Zmihorski
et al., 2016). The second research perspective deals
with the human factor: for instance, how to ensure par-
ticipation in AESs. Of key importance, given the volun-
tary nature of AESs, is farmer participation (Batáry et al.,
2015;Guillem&Barnes,2013; Runhaar et al., 2017).
This paper relates to the second perspective in AES
research. A relatively new research topic being
studied from this perspective is collaboration in
farmer groups and between these farmer groups
and governments and other organizations such as
nature conservation NGOs and local volunteer organ-
izations. Such collaboration is important to increase
the eectiveness of AESs at landscape scale (Bruges,
2014; de Snoo et al., 2013; Emery & Franks, 2012;
Franks, 2019; Josefsson et al., 2017; Runhaar et al.,
2017; Stock et al., 2014; Termeer et al., 2013; van
Dijk et al., 2015; Wolf, 2008). The importance of collab-
oration with farmers has also been recognized in prac-
tice. In the Netherlands, for instance, experiments
have been conducted in which groups of farmers
(called farmer collectives) have been given the
responsibility of drafting management plans for
AESs at landscape level, contracting farmers, and
monitoring and enforcement. Based on the resulting
ndings, in 2014 the new EU Common Agricultural
Policy (CAP) made it possible for a group of farmers
to be the applicant and nal beneciary of AESs sub-
sidies for the period 20152020. The Dutch govern-
ment even decided that only farmer collectives
could be beneciaries of AESs for the period 2016
2022 (Runhaar et al., 2017; Westerink, Termeer, & Man-
houdt, 2020). This led to 40 Dutch farmer collectives
being formally established in 2015 under the new
AESs regime (see Appendix A).
Farmer collectives facilitate coordination of conser-
vation measures at landscape level, which is con-
sidered important for enhancing the ecological
eectiveness of AESs (van Dijk et al., 2015; Westerink
et al., 2015). These collectives can increase the
engagement of farmers through local networking
and collective applications, improve the quality of
the applications for subsidies, stimulate learning,
and improve monitoring and evaluation (Lobley
et al., 2013; Westerink et al., 2017). They can act as
boundary organizations, connecting farmers with
governments and other stakeholders (Prager, 2015).
The question is whether working with voluntary
farmer collectives instead of more hierarchical
control in which governments contract individual
farmers will lead to more eective AESs and, if so,
how. What is important in the performance of
farmer collectives to ensure they can contribute to
more eective AESs? This is an unexplored eld of
research. In this paper we address the abovemen-
tioned knowledge gap, employing the lens of profes-
sionalizationin order to analyse the performance of
farmer collectives. The concept of professionalization
originates from the sociology and management disci-
plines and is often used to analyse and improve
organizations (Haapakorpi, 2012; Weggeman, 1992)
or professions like teachers, lawyers and medical
doctors (Clarke & Hollingsworth, 2002; Curnow &
McGonigle, 2006). It is also used to analyse and
improve the development of volunteer organizations
into more formal organizations: for instance, organiz-
ations related to sports associations (Dowling et al.,
2014; Nagel et al., 2015).
The following question guided the research
described in this paper: How can the performance of
farmer collectives in the Netherlands be conceptual-
ized and operationalized by using the lens of
professionalization?
In this paper, we develop an assessment frame-
work for the professionalization of farmer collectives.
The next section presents the methods used. The
Results present the conceptualization of professiona-
lization in the theoretical framework, with three cat-
egories of professionalization derived from the
literature on professionalization. Then, based on the
experience of stakeholders, the theoretical framework
is translated into an assessment framework which can
be used to characterize the degree of professionaliza-
tion of farmer collectives and to monitor progress in
professionalization over time. We wrap up our con-
clusions and reections in the last section.
Methods
Phase 1: Development of a theoretical
framework based on literature research
The rst phase entailed nding out more about the
interpretation of professionalization used in the
context of volunteer organizations and identifying
categories and characteristics of professionalization.
For this purpose, literature from various sources was
studied.
2L. DIK ET AL.
Firstly, Scopus, Google Scholar and CAB abstract
databases were searched for the key words and syno-
nyms for farmer collectives,Agri-environmental
schemes (AES)and professionalization. These com-
binations yielded only two relevant papers (Rey-
Valette et al., 2016; Wolf, 2008), both dealing with
the professionalization of a group of farmers and
other stakeholders as a strategy to increase the resili-
ence of the sector, by developing innovation, improv-
ing the learning and knowledge management and
improving networking capacity. However, it is ques-
tionable whether these are the only categories and
characteristics of professionalization and what their
value is.
In order to design a theoretical framework based
on more literature on professionalization, the litera-
ture study was therefore extended to English-
language papers with professionalization in the title.
In total, some 3900 papers in Scopus and over 6500
in Google Scholar were identied. Most of the litera-
ture about professionalization was found in the
areas of sociology, business management and
human resource management. In the literature two
directions of professionalization can be distinguished,
rst the professionalization of organizations and
second the professionalization of professions. The lit-
erature of organizations focuses predominantly on
the professionalization of formal organizations.
Another body of literature related to the professiona-
lization of organizations focuses on volunteer organiz-
ations, such as those for charities or sports. Farmer
collectives are also volunteer organizations: they ori-
ginated from agricultural nature associations mainly
run by volunteers (Runhaar et al., 2017).
In the third step, the literature study was limited to
the professionalization of volunteer sports organiz-
ations. Such organizations are important in the devel-
opment of sports in national and international
context. Changes in modern sports and society have
resulted in sports organizations facing dierent chal-
lenges: for example, dierentiation of sports, the
pursuit of public goals such as combating overweight
of the population, paid stabeing used instead of vol-
unteers, and the challenge of obtaining government
funding (Nagel et al., 2015; Shilbury & Ferkins, 2011).
For these reasons, sports organizations are transition-
ing from volunteer to more formal organizations. The
same trend is occurring in the farmer collectives. The
increase in responsibilities and the pressure to deliver
means that eectiveness, eciency and legitimacy
are becoming even more important, placing higher
demands on the organization comparable to those
demanded of formal organizations. Because partici-
pation in the farmer collectives is voluntary, they are
comparable to sports associations. Nagel et al.
(2015, p. 408) note that professionalization seems to
be an appropriate strategy for a volunteer sports
association to become more ecient, eective and
legitimate.
Much research has been conducted to conceptual-
ize and analyse the professionalization of sports
associations. A key paper for the operationalization
of the concept of professionalization is that by
Dowling et al. (2014), in which three categories of pro-
fessionalization are distinguished: (1) organizational
professionalization, (2) occupational professionaliza-
tion and (3) systemic professionalization. This is a
good basis for a theoretical framework because it
explicitly distinguishes between three types of profes-
sionalization. Our literature study revealed that in the
literature, these types of professionalization are mixed
up. Organizational professionalization is related to the
internal organization and is about the strategy, struc-
ture, systems and knowledge development an organ-
ization uses. Occupational professionalization refers
to the transformation of occupations into professions
and is about dening the qualications of occu-
pations and development of competences and knowl-
edge. Systemic professionalization is about how an
organization deals with external developments: how
its networks, policy-making and entrepreneurial qual-
ities are developed.
In order to work out the three distinctive cat-
egories of professionalization in more detail, it was
necessary to broaden the literature search in order
to be able to nd a sucient number of dierent
characteristics.
Using the ndings from this extensive literature
research, the theoretical framework to operationalize
the professionalization of volunteer organizations
was developed.
Phase 2: Development of an assessment
framework based on the experience of
stakeholders
In the second phase, the theoretical framework was
translated into the context of the farmer collectives,
to gain insight into the degree of professionalization
of Dutch farmer collectives working with AESs. In
order to transform the theoretical framework into an
assessment framework based on the experience of
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF AGRICULTURAL SUSTAINABILITY 3
stakeholders, three focus group sessions were orga-
nized, and two workshops were held during the
annual conferences for farmer collectives and stake-
holders engaged in AESs.
A focus group is a research technique that collects
data through group interaction on a topic predeter-
mined by the researcher(Morgan, 1996, p. 130). The
discussion in the focus group is inuenced by the
interaction between the participants. The views and
experiences this yields are usually richer and
dierent than those obtained in one-on-one inter-
views (Runhaar et al., 2016).
The participants in the focus group had dierent
backgrounds but were all involved in the implemen-
tation of the new style AESs in the Netherlands and
had knowledge about or experience with farmer col-
lectives. In consultation with the umbrella organiz-
ation BoerenNatuur, it was decided to invite
representatives of the collectives that have been
involved in the introduction of the AES new style. It
was up to the collectives to indicate who would
best represent them, a board member, someone
from the executive organization or a participant
(farmers). Moreover, we wanted to ensure adequate
representation across the country. In consultation
with BIJ12, the umbrella organization for the 12
Dutch provincial authorities, the same question was
put to the provinces. Eventually, the participants of
the focus group were four representatives of farmer
collectives (two board members (one is also a
farmer) and two employees of the executive organiz-
ation, which represented three collectives and
someone from BoerenNatuur), three representatives
of the government (BIJ12 and two Provinces) and
four scientists (Wageningen Economic Research,
Wageningen Environmental Research, WUR Depart-
ment of Public and Administration Policy and Depart-
ment of Forest and Nature Planning). The
representation of the collectives and the government
was well spread throughout the country (National,
Groningen, Gelderland, Brabant, Zuid-Holland and
Noord-Holland). One of the representatives of the
farmer collectives was unable to attend but
responded to the results afterwards. Three focus
group sessions were held: in November 2017, March
2018 and October 2019.
The aim of the rst meeting of the focus group was
to dene the professionalization of farmer collectives
and to check the applicability of the theoretical frame-
work to the situation of the farmer collectives. Prior to
this meeting, the participants received the rst results
of the literature study and a programme. The focus
group sessions began with an introduction on the
goal of the research, the research questions and
why the lens of professionalization of volunteer
organizations was being used. Next, the focus group
was asked to dene in two sentences what is meant
by professionalization. Then the theoretical frame-
work was presented and discussed.
The aim of the second focus group meeting was to
translate the characteristics of the three categories of
professionalization into indicators for determining to
what extent the farmer collectives have become more
professional. Prior to the meeting, the participants
had been sent a draft of the assessment framework.
The aim of the last focus group meeting was to
validate the results of the assessment framework
and its application in a case study. A representative
of the farmerscollectives from the focus group volun-
teered to evaluate the applicability of the assessment
framework. Prior to the last focus group session,
together with the representative of the collective,
the degree of professionalization of the collective in
question was assessed on the basis of the assessment
framework. The results were used to improve the
assessment framework. The focus group members
received a draft version of this paper with the
results of the evaluation.
Each focus group meeting lasted about 2.5 h. Two
researchers were involved: one facilitating the
meeting and the second observing and making
notes. In accordance with Runhaar et al. (2016), in
order to avoid one or more participants dominating
the discussion (one of the potential downsides of
focus group meetings), the facilitator tried as much
as possible to ask for input from each participant
and, when making intermediate conclusions, to ask
whether there was consensus. The representatives of
the collectives and the provinces had important input
in the discussion on the design and feasibility of the
framework. The focus group meetings had advantages
over one-on-one interviews because they allowed dis-
cussion of inputs from individual participants that were
not mentioned by the other participants.
In addition to the three focus groups, two work-
shops were held, one in 2018 and the other in 2019,
during the annual conference for farmers and stake-
holders engaged in AESs. During these conferences,
farmer collectives can network, exchange experiences
and gain knowledge. At the 2018 conference work-
shop, the theoretical framework was presented and
starting from this, three questions were posed: How
4L. DIK ET AL.
does the farmer collective interact with the external
network? What are the most important characteristics
of your organization? How do you deal with the devel-
opment of the people within your organization?
During the 2019 conference workshop, the following
questions were posed: Has the farmer collective
become suciently professional to be ready for the
future? What questions should be asked to assess
this? What information is available from the farmer
collectives for this purpose? Participantsresponses
were written on Post-it® notes and discussed by the
group. The ndings yielded by the workshop were
used to assess whether the questions and experiences
of the collectives matched the developed assessment
framework.
The assessment framework was constructed using
ave-point Likert scale (McLeod, 2008) to express the
performance of the farmer collective for professiona-
lization: (1) very poor; (2) poor; (3) fair; (4) good; (5)
excellent.
Results
As already mentioned, the research question was:
How can the performance of farmer collectives in
the Netherlands be conceptualized by using the lens
of professionalization? The results are presented
below.
Theoretical framework derived from the
literature
The three categories of professionalization form the
basis of the theoretical framework to characterize
the degree of professionalization of farmer collectives
as voluntary organizations. Figure 1 illustrates the
theoretical framework.
Characteristics of the category of organizational
professionalization
The category of organizational professionalization is
related to the organization itself (internal) and is
about the strategy, structure and systems of the
organization (Dowling et al., 2014). The rst character-
istic of a professional organization is to have a stra-
tegic plan consisting of a clear strategy, a collective
aspiration, goals and strategy (addressing the Why,
Where, What and How of an organization) (Dowling
et al., 2014; Ferkins et al., 2005; Runhaar, 2021;
Suarez, 2011; Weggeman, 1992). This strategic plan
is based on shared values of the organizations
board members, paid sta, volunteers and partici-
pants and is intended to create shared ownership (col-
lective sense of strategy) (Ferkins et al., 2005;Shilbury
& Ferkins, 2011; Weggeman, 1992). Using this stra-
tegic plan based on shared values, the board can
monitor the organizations performance and ensure
goals are realized, and can act in the best interest of
the members (Shilbury & Ferkins, 2011; Weggeman,
1992).
The second characteristic is how the organiz-
ation has structured its main process (primary
process). These are all activities that contribute
directly to the provision of the service, in the case
of the farmerscollectives it is agricultural nature
management. It is important to choose the struc-
ture which supports the strategy based on shared
values and culture of the organization (Weggeman,
1992). The structure is about the relationship
between board and sta(paid or voluntary), roles,
internal decision-making structure and shared lea-
dership (Dowling et al., 2014; Shilbury & Ferkins,
2011; Ferkins et al., 2005). In a volunteer organiz-
ation, the board members are volunteers. The func-
tioning of the board is an important characteristic,
as it reveals how professional the organization is
(Ferkins et al., 2005;Shilbury&Ferkins,2011).
Characteristics of a professional board are strategic
capability, leadership shared between staand vol-
unteer board, board motivation to facilitate and
monitor implementation, and the board knowing
the dierence between setting policy and implement-
ingit(Shilbury&Ferkins,2011). Another important
part of the professionalization of a volunteer organiz-
ation is the increase in paid sta. Whether an organ-
ization relies on volunteers, or paid people, or is a
more hybrid organization depends on its strategy
for achieving its organizational aspirations (Shilbury
&Ferkins,2011;Suarez,2011).
The third characteristic is which systems, rules and
procedures are needed to monitor and evaluate the
functioning of the organization e.g. goals, time,
nance, quality, people and information (Nagel
et al., 2015; Weggeman, 1992). These enabling
factors contribute to the organizations accountability,
eciency and eectiveness. For example, monitoring
the goals of a farmer collective requires information
about where, how and by whom which kind of con-
servation management is done. But it is also necessary
to know the costs involved, the impact on agrobiodi-
versity and what are the opportunities and bottle-
necks. This information needs to be available so that
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF AGRICULTURAL SUSTAINABILITY 5
adjustments can be made or lessons learned from the
choices made.
The nal characteristic is about the learning culture
of an organization. A professional organization has a
learning culture, i.e. the lessons learned by the organ-
ization have impact on its future behaviour (Tsang,
1997). A learning organization is an organization
skilled at creating, acquiring and transferring knowl-
edge, and at modifying its behaviour based on new
knowledge and lessons learned in the past. A learning
organization pays attention to ve activities: systema-
tic problem solving; experimentation with new
approaches; learning from the past and from its own
experiences; learning from others; and transferring
knowledge throughout the organization (Garvin,
1993; Schomers et al., 2021). A learning organization
that corrects its errors and reacts fast to external
changes should perform better than one which does
not learn from mistakes. A learning culture is based
on a collective sense of strategy and needs a learning
organization that is transparent, stimulates creativity
and innovation, and has open communication to
facilitate the learning (Serrat, 2017; Weggeman, 1992).
Characteristics of the category of occupational
professionalization
The second category of professionalization is occu-
pational professionalization, which starts when
occupations are transformed into professions, or
when individuals in the organization become profes-
sionalized (Dowling et al., 2014). Curnow and McGoni-
gle (2006)dene professionalization as the process
through which an occupation becomes a profession
and in which professional skills are identied, devel-
oped and maintained. Occupational professionaliza-
tion is also a continuous process of learning (Clarke
& Hollingsworth, 2002).
The rst characteristic of occupational professiona-
lization is to identify dierent occupations (paid and
voluntary) the organization needs, based on the
organizations strategy and structure. After that, the
qualications of the dierent occupations are
dened: for example, knowledge, skills, competences,
experience and credentials (e.g. code of ethics,
licence, MSc or BSc degree) (Curnow & McGonigle,
2006; Freathy et al., 2016; Gornitzka & Larsen, 2004;
Parker et al., 2016; Thomas & Thomas, 2013).
The second characteristic is how to maintain and
develop qualications: how to become a professional
or a better professional. Depending on the stage of
professionalization of a particular occupation, there
are dierent options for supporting the maintenance
and development of the qualications for that occu-
pation: Which career path is dened? Which degree
or diploma courses are available? Is there a learning
environment or a network of expertise? Does the
Figure 1. Theoretical framework: three categories and characteristics of the professionalization of farmer collectives.
6L. DIK ET AL.
profession need to be licensed or certied? (Curnow &
McGonigle, 2006; Hwang & Powell, 2009; Keulen et al.,
2015; Roth, 2012; Serrat, 2017; Thomas & Thomas,
2013; Wolf, 2008).
Characteristics of the category of systemic
professionalization
The third category of professionalization, systemic
professionalization, is about how an organization
manages the external developments in its immediate
environment and in society. These external factors
aect the organization and may require changes to
be made to the organization. External factors consist
of opportunities and threats to the organization.
Dowling et al. (2014); and Nagel et al. (2015)dene
systemic professionalization as changes in the
environment resulting in organizational changes: for
instance, the impact of government-led programmes
and initiatives around sports organizations and how
an organization deals with these impacts. The conse-
quences of these external changes are a shift from a
more hierarchical organization to a network organiz-
ation that needs to develop network capability and
strategic capability (Nagel et al., 2015; Shilbury &
Ferkins, 2011). Laasonen and Kolehmainen (2017)
adopt a capability perspective to view the system
structure and processes and their impact on external
developments. They have identied three general
interrelated capability characteristics: (1) network
capability, (2) strategic policy-making capability and
(3) entrepreneurial capability. These capabilities are
very useful for indicating how an organization
manages the external factors that inuence it.
Network capability is the power to build, handle
and exploit relationships (Laasonen & Kolehmainen,
2017). Collaboration in a network requires a basic
level of trust (Westerink et al., 2017) and reciprocity
between individuals and organizations (Laasonen &
Kolehmainen, 2017). An organization with a good
network is able to recognize opportunities and
threats in time.
Strategic policy-making capability is the ability to
implement political agenda-setting and awareness-
raising actions (Laasonen & Kolehmainen, 2017). To
choose the right political agenda-setting and aware-
ness-raising actions, it is important to have a good
network and to align with the organizations strategy.
Entrepreneurial capability is the capability to
create opportunities for innovation, build coalitions,
collaborate, exploit business opportunities and
execute actions based on a mutual understanding
between a network of individuals and organizations
(Laasonen & Kolehmainen, 2017).
An assessment framework for
professionalization of farmer collectives based
on the experience of stakeholders
As described in the Methods, the theoretical frame-
work was translated into an assessment framework
to gain insight into the degree of professionalization
of the farmer collectives and to monitor the progress
of professionalization over time. Tables 13present
the nal assessment framework.
Organizational professionalization
Table 1 provides the nal assessment framework for
characterizing the degree of organizational professio-
nalization of the farmer collectives.
Strategy: A highly professional farmer collective
(excellent) has a common and shared strategy that
has been worked out in terms of aspiration, goals
and strategy. The strategy is aimed at achieving
more agrobiodiversity but also at becoming a
certain type of farmer collective in order to do so. In
order to become more professional, it is important
to know how well the strategy for both aspirations
has been worked out and what process has been fol-
lowed in order to jointly develop a common and
shared strategy with the dierent people in the
farmer collective (board members, employees, partici-
pants and volunteers). This elaborated strategy pro-
vides the basis for further actions by the farmer
collective. Farmer collectives can make dierent
choices in strategies, goals and aspirations and still
be professional. For example, one farmer collective
in the Netherlands chose to use AES to work on
meadow bird management only, while another went
in search of new instruments and funding for
meadow bird management and also became a
project-oriented organization. Based on the strategies
it has chosen, the farmer collective makes dierent
choices in all three categories: for example, how the
farmer collective is organized, what quality require-
ments the collective demands from employees, how
the collective nances its activities, how its
members use their network and what policy-making
actions are undertaken. The choices made in the strat-
egy and its implementation will inuence the eec-
tiveness of the AES.
Structure: A highly professional farmer collective
has structured its primary process in line with its
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF AGRICULTURAL SUSTAINABILITY 7
Table 1. The nal assessment framework for characterizing the degree of organizational professionalization of farmer collectives.
Category Characteristics
Indicators
12 3 4 5
Organizational Strategy A shared strategy (i.e.
aspiration, goals and
strategy) of which
agrobiodiversity to
achieve
No strategy One or two parts of the
strategy are partly
common and shared
One or two parts of the
strategy are common
and shared
A complete strategy are
partly common and
shared
A complete strategy are
common shared
A shared strategy (i.e.
aspiration, goals and
strategy) of what kind
of collective one wants
to be in order to realize
the above
No strategy One or two parts of the
strategy are partly
common and shared
One or two parts of the
strategy are common
and shared
A complete strategy are
partly common and
shared
A complete strategy are
common shared
Structure The organization
structure of the primary
process of the
organization follows
the strategy.
No clear structure Part of the farmer collective
has partly a clear structure
that does not follow the
strategy
The farmer collective has a
clear structure not
following the strategy
Structure of the
organization partly
follows the strategy
Structure of the
organization follows the
strategy
Shared leadership No shared leadership Shared leadership in 25% of
the activities of the farmer
collective
Shared leadership in 50%
of the activities of the
farmer collective
Shared leadership in 75% of
the activities of the
farmer collective
Shared leadership
Segregation of duties
between board and
executive organization
No segregation of
duties
For 25% of the board
members there is a
segregation of duties
For 50% of the board
members there is a
segregation of duties
For 75% of the board
members there is a
segregation of duties
Complete segregation of
duties
Organizational Enabling
systems
Presence and use of
systems to monitor and
evaluate the
agrobiodiversity.
No systems to monitor
and evaluate the
agrobiodiversity.
Has some systems and
doesnt or only partly
reects and adjusts in
light of the monitoring
and evaluation of the
collectives performance
vis-à-vis its strategy.
Has some systems and
regularly reects and
adjusts in light of the
monitoring and
evaluation of the
performance vis-à-vis its
strategy.
Has all systems and doesnt
or only partly reects and
adjusts in light of the
monitoring and
evaluation of the
collectives performance
vis-à-vis its strategy.
Has all systems and
regularly reects and
adjusts in light of the
monitoring and
evaluation of the
collectives performance
vis-à-vis its strategy.
Presence and use of
systems to monitor and
evaluate the
performance of the
organization
No systems to monitor
and evaluate the
performance of the
organization
Has some systems and
doesnt or only partly
reects and adjusts in
light of the monitoring
and evaluation of the
collectives performance
vis-à-vis its strategy
Has some systems and
regularly reects and
adjusts in light of the
monitoring and
evaluation of the
collectives performance
vis-à-vis its strategy
Has all systems and doesnt
or only partly reects and
adjusts in light of the
monitoring and
evaluation of the
collectives performance
vis-à-vis its strategy
Has all systems and
regularly reects and
adjusts in light of the
monitoring and
evaluation of the
collectives performance
vis-à-vis its strategy
Learning
organization
Knowledge programme No programme for the
transfer of
knowledge within
the organization and
for learning from
others
Minimal programme for the
transfer of knowledge
within the organization
and for learning from
others
Limited programme for the
transfer of knowledge
within the organization
and for learning from
others
Standard programme for
the transfer of knowledge
within the organization
and for learning from
others
Extensive programme for
the transfer of
knowledge within the
organization and for
learning from others
Experimentation and
innovation
No experimentation
and innovation
Minimum experimentation
and innovation
Limited experimentation
and innovation
Standard experimentation
and innovation
Extensive experimentation
and innovation
8L. DIK ET AL.
Table 2. Final assessment framework for characterizing the degree of occupational professionalization of farmer collectives.
Category Characteristics
Indicators
12345
Occupational Identication of
qualications
Qualications identied for the
various activities within the
collective (participants, board
and employees) and obtained
accordingly.
No identied
qualications
are available
Identied qualications
are not adequately
described and dicult
to obtain
Identied
qualications are
not adequately
described and
obtained
Identied qualications
are adequately
described and
dicult to obtain
Identied
qualications are
adequately
described and
obtained
Maintenance and
development of
qualications
HR strategy available with follow-
up interviews and the
opportunity for personal
development in order to
maintain and develop
qualications. All participants,
board members and employees
participate
No HR strategy Has a limited HR strategy.
Participants, board
members and
employees do not
participate or
participate only to a
limited extent
Has a limited HR
strategy.
Participants, board
members and
employees all
participate
Has a clear HR strategy.
Participants, board
members and
employees
participate only to a
limited extent
Has a clear HR
strategy.
Participants, board
members and
employees all
participate
Table 3. Final assessment framework for characterizing the degree of systemic professionalization of farmer collectives.
Category Characteristics
Indicators
12345
Systemic Network
capability
Build, handle and exploit
relationships based on trust
and reciprocity
Not able to build,
handle and
exploit
relationships
Able to build
relationships based
on trust
Able to build and
handle relationships
based on trust
Able to build, handle and
exploit relationships based on
trust
Able to build, handle and
exploit relationships based
on trust and reciprocity
Policy-making
capability
Identify opportunities and
developments, active in
setting the political agenda
and awareness-raising, all in
line with the strategy
No policy-making
capability
Limited ability to
identify opportunities
and developments in
line with the strategy
Able to identify
opportunities and
developments in
line with the
strategy
Able to identify opportunities
and developments in
accordance with the strategy
but has limited activity in
setting the political agenda
and raising awareness
Able to identify opportunities
and developments in
accordance with the strategy
and is active in setting the
political agenda and raising
awareness
Entrepreneurial
capability
1: Create opportunities for
innovation
2: Build coalitions and
collaborate
3: Exploit business nancial
opportunities and 4: Execute
actions based on mutual
understanding between a
network of individuals and
organizations
No entrepreneurial
capabilities
Entrepreneurial
capabilities in one of
the four
entrepreneurial
capabilities
Entrepreneurial
capabilities in two of
the four
entrepreneurial
capabilities
Entrepreneurial capabilities in
three of the four
entrepreneurial capabilities
Entrepreneurial capabilities in
all four entrepreneurial
capabilities
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF AGRICULTURAL SUSTAINABILITY 9
strategy about what kind of farmer collective
members want it to be and to support the strategy
to achieve more agrobiodiversity. Organizational
structure is primarily designed for the primary
process and takes account of the position and role
of the board of the farmer collective, the executive
organization(s) and the participants in AESs. In
addition, the relationship between the board and
the executive organization is important, in terms of
shared leadership and segregation of duties. Most
farmer collectives originate from one or more agricul-
tural nature associations (ANVs). In some cases the
ANVs have been dissolved, in other cases the ANVs
still exist. In the latter case, the question is what is
the ANVs role on the board of the farmer collective
and in the implementation of AESs. This depends on
the chosen strategy and the added value of the
ANVs. Examples of added value from the ANVs are
the connection with the area and the knowledge
they have. The choices made about the organization
structure depend on questions such as the goals of
the strategy, the available budget, the quality of the
board members and people in the executive organiz-
ation, the ability to nd board members, the relation-
ship with the participants, etc. It is important for the
organization not to be dependent on a few people,
and to have continuity in the board and executive
organization.
Enabling systems: The farmer collectives in the
Netherlands have a good ICT system (e.g. the SCAN-
ICT system that was developed to support the new
farmer collectives) that supports their nance, admin-
istration and collects geographical information on
where farmers are managing nature and who has
been contracted to implement it. All farmer collec-
tives in the Netherlands have a Quality manual that
stipulates the structure of the organization, pro-
cedures, systems and rules for the implementation
of AESs, e.g. including a viewing protocol and man-
agement monitoring. It is unclear how they use
these systems to monitor and evaluate the function-
ing of the organization in light of their goals and strat-
egy for agrobiodiversity. What are the key
performance indices of the farmer collective based
on its strategy? Are these enabling systems enough
to monitor and evaluate the collectives strategy?
How do the farmer collectives learn from the monitor-
ing and evaluations and do they adjust goals, strat-
egy, actions, organization based on these results
(Plan, Do, Check and Adjust)?
In terms of professionalization, a farmer collective
is excellent if it has all the enabling systems and, on
the basis of monitoring and evaluation of perform-
ance vis-à-vis the strategy for agrobiodiversity, regu-
larly reects on and adjusts the organizations
performance.
Learning organization: A very professional farmer
collective is a learning organization that learns from
the mistakes made and from others, oers opportu-
nities for experimentation and transfers knowledge
throughout the organization. BoerenNatuur, the
national association of farmer collectives, organizes
various knowledge-sharing activities such as a news-
letter, a conference day, intranet and consultation
between farmer collectives. In addition, the farmer
collective has its own programme for learning, experi-
menting and innovating. Some farmer collectives take
part in pilots to identify and evolve new ways of moni-
toring; for example, four farmer collectives in the
Netherlands participated in the pilot project Biodiver-
sity Monitorof World Wildlife Fund of the Nether-
lands, Rabobank and Friesland Campina. Sometimes
new techniques are evolved: for example, the use of
drones to monitor of nests. Various farmer collectives
in the Netherlands now use these drones.
Category of occupational professionalization
Table 2 gives the nal assessment framework for char-
acterizing the degree of occupational professionaliza-
tion of farmer collectives.
Identify qualications: A farmer collective which
performs excellent has identied the qualications
(knowledge, competences, abilities, experience and
skills) needed in a farmer collective and ensured
that the people (board, employees and participants)
of the farmer collective have these qualications. For
example, the executive organization usually consists
of one or more project managers, eld coordinators
and administrative assistants who are employed or
hired. Applicants for these positions are checked to
see whether they meet the required qualications,
such as their knowledge of ecology, ability to work
in a team, their network in the area, etc. The ecological
knowledge important to achieve more agrobiodiver-
sity is provided in dierent ways: sometimes is a qua-
lication for ecological expertise stipulated in a job
description, or the executive organization supplies
an ecologist. Another option is to have an ecological
committee. Another important requirement is
whether the people in the various positions have
the qualications stipulated. It is dicult to nd
10 L. DIK ET AL.
good board members, so it is to be expected that the
requirements for these are not always achieved. In
order to achieve more agrobiodiversity, it is important
to set the right requirements for participation in an
AES, such as location of plots, deployment of more
comprehensive management packages and coher-
ence of management. The more the collective is
able to nd participants who meet these require-
ments, the more professional the collective is.
Maintenance and development of qualications: A
very professional farmer collective has a clear
human resource (HR) strategy in which there are
follow-up interviews and the opportunity for personal
development in order to maintain and further
develop the quality of all its participants, board
members and employees. The question that needs
to be asked here is, how does someone become a
better professional? Are there regular follow-up inter-
views with board members, employees and the par-
ticipants? Topics covered during such interviews
include how things are going and what is needed
for further development. Does the farmer collective
have a HR strategy, and what is the participation in
that strategy? Professional collectives continue to
develop. Examples mentioned above when discussing
learning organizations are learning on the job and
participating in meetings, conferences and seminars
organized by BoerenNatuur. The aim is to translate
the human resource programme into a personal pro-
gramme for the board members, employees and par-
ticipants and for everyone to participate.
Category of systemic professionalization
Table 3 gives the nal assessment framework for char-
acterizing the degree of systemic professionalization
of farmer collectives.
Network capability: A very professional farmer col-
lective is able to build, handle and exploit relation-
ships between individuals and organizations on the
basis of trust and reciprocity (de Vries et al., 2019; Laa-
sonen & Kolehmainen, 2017). The farmer collectives
have dierent relationships to build, handle or
exploit. The most important relationship is that
between province and farmer collectives in AESs.
The farmer collectives have a contract with the pro-
vince to execute AESs. In this case they have a con-
tractorclient relationship. The relationship with the
province was built up during the drafting of the rst
contract and since then has been maintained
through follow-up meetings and has been used on
both sides to, for example, make extra money
available for extra meadow bird management, blue
services and other management contracts. But there
are more relationships: for example, the cooperation
with other farmer collectives in the province and
nationwide via the BoerenNatuur association, or
with the various nature and landscape organizations.
The knowledge and network of these organizations
can be used to increase the extent to which the
farmer collective achieves more agrobiodiversity.
Policy-making capability: A very professional farmer
collective is able to identify opportunities and devel-
opments and is active in setting the political agenda
and raising awareness, all in line with the strategy.
An example of the policy-making capability is the
role of BoerenNatuur in the national debate about
nature-inclusive farminginvolving dierent parties,
such as the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food
Quality, scientists and the supply chain of food com-
panies. BoerenNatuur plays an active role in these
actions to create opportunities for the collectives in
the future. A regional example is that in the north of
the Netherlands, where a green deal on nature-inclus-
ive agriculture has been concluded in which the agri-
cultural collectives have had an important agenda-
setting role.
Entrepreneurial capability: A very professional
farmer collective has the entrepreneurial capability
1: to create opportunities for innovation, 2: build
coalitions, collaborate, 3: exploit business nancial
opportunities and 4: execute actions based on
mutual understanding between a network of individ-
uals and organizations. In addition to implementing
AESs, most agricultural collectives also work on
various innovative projects that contribute to more
agrobiodiversity. Sometimes they take the initiative
to seize opportunities for innovation and bring
parties together. In other cases, they are mainly the
executing partner.
Discussion and conclusion
This paper presents an assessment framework for
characterizing the degree of professionalization of
farmer collectives, to contribute to more eective
AESs. Much research has been conducted on how
the eectiveness of AESs can be enhanced, but it
has investigated ecological aspects of nature
measurement or collaboration on landscape scale
(Velten et al., 2018). We also see an increasing body
of literature about the governance of AES arrange-
ments (Runhaar et al., 2017; Schomers et al., 2021;
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF AGRICULTURAL SUSTAINABILITY 11
Triste et al., 2020). But, not how the performance of a
farmer collective contributes to a more eective AES.
In this paper, the lens of professionalizationhas been
used to conceptualize and operationalize the per-
formance of farmer collectives and provides an in-
depth look at the governance of AES arrangements.
The research we undertook has resulted in an
assessment framework for characterizing a farmer col-
lectives degree of professionalization. The framework
distinguishes three categories of professionalization:
organizational professionalization, systemic professio-
nalization and occupational professionalization. The
characteristics of professionalization in the assess-
ment framework which could have direct impact on
achieving the ecological objectives of an AES are a
strategy for agrobiodiversity, enabling systems to
monitor and evaluate the agrobiodiversity, being a
learning organization and the ecological qualica-
tions of the AES participants and organization.
The farmer collective should be able to achieve
more agrobiodiversity if
.It has a common and shared strategy for agrobiodi-
versity, consisting of an aspiration, goals and
execution strategy (Runhaar, 2021).
.It monitors and evaluates the nature measure-
ments and agrobiodiversity, so it can learn and
do better (learning organization) (Triste et al.,
2020).
.Its board members, employees and participants
understand and receive ongoing training in
ecology (Schomers et al., 2021).
The other characteristics of a professional farmer
collective dont have direct impact on achieving
more agrobiodiversity but are more supportive.
Professionalization of farmer collectives is one way
to contribute to a more eective AES. But there are
more aspects which could inuence the eectiveness
of an AES: for example, the budget available, farmers
willingness to participate, the size of the area, the type
of landscape, occurrence of species etc. (Bareille et al.,
2021; de Vries et al., 2019; Westerink et al., 2020)
The three categories distinguished in the assess-
ment framework are not mutually exclusive, they are
related and inuence each other. Choices made in
one category can inuence choices in other cat-
egories. For example, when something happens in
the environment of the farmer collective (the
system) and the collective has a good network, it
could have impact on the strategy formulated as
part of the organizational category and have a
knock-on eect on the other categories. The same
applies when there are new organizational develop-
ments: this could make it necessary for the farmers
to acquire new qualications, which could lead to a
change in the knowledge programme and HR strat-
egy. This assessment framework has a static character,
but by using it in combination with open and in-
depth questions and repeating it regularly, the links
between the categories and the development over
time can be analysed.
This assessment framework complements the
existing quality system with which the Dutch agricul-
tural collectives must comply in order to be eligible to
be subsidized. The quality system focuses particularly
on the organizational structure, the presence of
enabling systems and the identication of qualica-
tions and job descriptions. Less attention is paid to
the strategy, the development and use of the
support systems and the development of the people
in the organization. The farmer collectives are regu-
larly audited to see whether they still comply with
the quality system. The development of the certifying
process and the quality manual has been the rst step
in the professionalization process of farmer collectives
in the Netherlands (Westerink et al., 2020). This assess-
ment framework can also be used by Dutch farmer
collectives themselves to see where they meet expec-
tations and where improvements are required.
The assessment framework has not yet been tested
in the eld. When the assessment framework is used
in further research on farmer collectives, it will be
interesting to see what the dierences are between
the farmer collectives, which dilemmas they encoun-
ter, where further development is required and if
there is a development curve of professionalization.
The expectation is that this research and the experi-
ence in the Netherlands will lead to other countries
following by changing their AESs from arrangements
made with individual farmers to arrangements made
with groups of farmers.
The assessment framework provides a new lens in
research on AES. It can also be used by practitioners
involved in AESs to reect on the functioning of
farmer collectives.
Acknowledgements
The authors would like to thank the members of the focus group
for their valuable discussion and the conformation of the assess-
ment framework and BoerenNatuur for the use of their oce for
12 L. DIK ET AL.
focus group meetings. We thank Dr Judith Westerink and the
anonymous reviewers for their useful comments. The pro-
fessional language editor of a draft of the paper was Dr Joy Bur-
rough-Boenisch.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author(s).
Notes on contributors
L. Dik is a strategic advisor at the Province of Gelderland and
external PhD student at Wageningen University and Research.
Her PhD research focuses on the performance of farmer collec-
tives in relation to ecological eectiveness.
H. A. C. Runhaar is Associate Professor of Governance of Nature
and Biodiversity at Utrecht University and Visiting Professor at
Wageningen University and Research. His research focuses on
interventions by governments, companies and NGOs to
protect or enhance nature and biodiversity, with a special inter-
est in agriculture.
C. J. A. M. Termeer is Chair of the Public Administration and
Policy Group at Wageningen University and Research, the Neth-
erlands. Her research addresses the governance of wicked pro-
blems in the policy domains of sustainable agri-food systems,
adaptation to climate change and vital rural areas. Previously,
she worked at other universities; at the Ministry of Agriculture;
and at Sioo, Centre for Organizational Change and Learning.
She is also a Crown member of the Social and Economic
Council of the Netherlands.
ORCID
L. Dik http://orcid.org/0000-0001-9803-410X
H. A. C. Runhaar http://orcid.org/0000-0001-7790-097X
C. J. A. M. Termeer http://orcid.org/0000-0001-7396-1476
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Appendix A: The establishment of the
Dutch farmer collectives
In the Netherlands in the early 1990s, interest began to grow in
the governance of natural resources being carried out by
farmers themselves (Termeer et al., 2013). The rst agricultural
nature associations were established in 1992 in protest against
the government, because of farmerscriticism about how AESs
were organized and about agri-environmental legislation more
generally. Their main criticism concerned the top-down
approach taken by government, which excluded farmersinter-
ests and opinions (de Snoo et al., 2013; Franks & McGloin, 2007;
Oerlemans, Guldemond, & Visser, 2007). In 2013, the Dutch gov-
ernment began an overhaul of the agri-environment schemes in
the Netherlands (Dijkstra, 2013). In the new style of AES intro-
duced by the government, the only nal beneciaries are pro-
fessional farmer collectives, because working with farmer
collectives makes the system more eective and more
ecient: more eective because agricultural nature manage-
ment in a given region is less fragmented and applied more
integrally in areas where biodiversity gains can be expected.
The aim of the new style AES is for the regional parties to
jointly develop the various social objectives in their own
region. The government hoped the system would be more
ecient because applications would be submitted by pro-
fessional collectives, which would greatly reduce the number
of applications and improve their quality (Snoo, Melman,
Brouwer, Weijden, & Udo de Haes, 2016; Dijkstra, 2013). In
2013, an extensive development process started in which the
new farmer collectives were prepared for their new task.
Finally, in 2015, forty new farmer collectives were established
(see https://www.boerennatuur.nl/collectieven/). In this way,
the farmer collective in the Netherlands developed from a
self-governance arrangement in 1992 into a publicprivate gov-
ernance arrangement in the new-style AES in 2016 (Runhaar
et al., 2017).
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF AGRICULTURAL SUSTAINABILITY 15
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