Why would a farmer use the Cool Farm Tool?

photo-gijsFarmers think primarily in input and output, in costs, yield and margin. The current Cool Farm Tool (CFT) provides insight into greenhouse gases and biodiversity. To the farmer, neither has direct obvious impact on costs, yields or margin. So why would he or she, with little love for surveys and paperwork, use the CFT at all?

Let’s face it, most fill it in because the customers asks them to. Some feel more generally obliged because the eyes of society are upon the farming sector. And indeed, some hope to get insight on possible costs savings – energy for instance. I suspect, however, that if not nudged there will be no throng of farmers lining up to use the Tool.

Still, at the back of the farmers’ mind, is another interest beyond costs and margins: continuity. This is where the Tool may provide insight. It helps understand how farm management results in greenhouse gases and thus impacts on the environment that may eventually bounce back at them. The Tool can give insight into biodiversity that supports the resilience of the crops, thanks to abundant beneficial bugs and healthy soil life. Latching on to that wish for continuity (including, by the way, a continuing long-term relationship with the customer) may help to convince farmers to use the tool.

But in the end, a much stronger trigger for wider use and appreciation is this: the addition of new modules to the tool that directly help the farmer with their own interests. The upcoming water use module is a first step, helping to save water. In the near future, we should also build a module that calculates nutrient balances, hence supporting efficiency. Add to that a module that helps reduce pesticide impacts without raising costs, or even leading to costs savings. And think of a module that helps improve soil quality.

For now, the CFT covers only greenhouse gases and biodiversity. So the main incentive for farmers to start using it should come from the food chain: these issues are very important. And the main impacts in the chain occur at farm level. So the farmer is a crucial player in understanding the impacts on climate change and biodiversity, and in helping to reduce these impacts. The Cool Farm Tool is probably the best, most simple and accessible tool around to do so.

By Gijs Kuneman, Centre for Agriculture and Environment – CLM