The impact of knowledge transfer activities on farm level outcomes
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Agricultural knowledge transfer (KT) activities are services that aim to improve farm level performance by building the capabilities of clients through improved problem solving, decision making and farm management skills. This occurs as a result of an interaction that fosters farmer learning to implement emerging technologies and management practices from research. Many studies show that interaction with KT services impacts farmer’s profitability levels, but most are subject to scrutiny given the multiplicity of methodological options across a range of disparate outcomes. A central challenge of impact evaluations is the level of statistical endogeneity inherent in the findings given biases caused by self-selection, omitted variables and measurement error. Failure to combat these forms of biases can lead to false inferences on the level of impact achieved. Furthermore, much of existing analysis lacks a depth of understanding on the key underpinning processes that drive impact, as many focus on mono-method analysis where representativeness is traded off against depth. This multi-methods research attempts to redress these research gaps by firstly quantifying what the level of impact from KT was for participating farmers followed by explaining the process of how this impact was achieved at farm level. Firstly, the impact on farm level income is quantified through an instrumental variable (IV) regression estimation to combat endogeneity concerns. Specifically, the impact of KT participation is estimated on farm income which incorporates all KT activities across all farm systems utilising Teagasc National Farm Survey (NFS) panel data to focus on public KT clients. IV relies on the premise of identifying suitable instruments that affect the decision to participate in KT programmes (relevant) but do not directly affect farm income (valid) in this context. Distance to the local advisory office and the introduction of a policy change which decoupled subsidies from production were chosen as valid instruments. The results indicate a positive impact of 35 per cent for KT participation on farm income over the period 2000-2013 in Ireland, and imply that previous research underestimated the benefits of participation. The next phase refined the measure of impact to focus on profitability by excluding subsidy related payments which are a significant income support mechanism. This approach also focused on a period during the economic recession when resources to deliver KT services diminished with significant office closures and staff reductions. Focusing on the Irish case, administrative data is merged with farm level financial performance data from the NFS to test the impact of KT through Random Effects (RE) estimation. The results showed that annual KT contract holders gained a 12.3 per cent benefit to their market gross margin per hectare, but there was a negative effect of 0.2 per cent for each additional client assigned to the adviser which averaged at 9.6 per cent per adviser overall over the period 2008-2014. This implies that the recruitment of additional advisers would positively impact on clients’ margins further. The quantitative analyses provide evidence on the positive impact of KT participation, but does not explain the underpinning factors that drove this impact. The qualitative analysis addresses this gap by providing insight through a series of semi structured interviews with key personnel on both the adviser and client side that were thematically analysed. By focusing on the capacity and methods to deliver the service, the subsequent effectiveness of the interaction, and the learning and implementation by the farmer to explain the key factors that lead to impact. The results showed that the motivation of the farmer to participate, learn and implement new knowledge are the key drivers of impact from KT and that this depends on the level of trust and credibility in the organisation, their relationship with the adviser and the types of activities and specific content on offer. The multi-methods approach adopted in this study ensured a robust analysis that could be harnessed further for evaluations more generally. This study applied both quantitative and qualitative methodologies in order to achieve a more accurate and more valid analysis, through complementary insights to deepen the overall understanding of KT impact. The findings showed that there was a positive impact for KT participation, although the level of this impact was confounded by the need to efficiently deploy resources as well as the key roles of both farmers and advisers in a process underpinned by trust. These insights provide valuable evidence that can support policy making on efficient resource deployment for public KT providers to achieve future targets as set by government.