Potentially, arable fields can deliver a range of public goods and ecosystem services in addition to food. However, intensive arable production systems tend to favour food production at the cost of the level of delivery of other ecosystem services such as clean water, soil recovering capacity and natural pest reduction. In order to increase the level of ES delivery, arable production systems farmers would need to change their practices. Governance arrangements are ultimately aimed at achieving such a chance of behaviour. Governance arrangements not only include government initiatives, but also institutions that were developed bottom-up by other actors and networks.
This contribution investigates governance arrangements developed by groups of intensive arable farmers in the Netherlands, known as the Skylark Foundation (Stichting Veldleeuwerik). We zoom in on two arrangements: the way in which social learning is organised in small farmer groups and between groups in a nested structure, and the way in which a particular Skylark group took initiative to develop a land lease arrangement for promoting water quality in collaboration with the Water Board (regional authority managing a comprehensive water system).
By meeting in small groups, farmers challenge each other in striving for sustainable practices. All participants must compose a plan for each year, specifying their sustainability actions. For instance: to reduce the use of pesticides or to improve nesting possibilities for farmyard birds. They meet regularly, visit each other’s farm, learn from each other’s experiences and set joint learning goals. Common themes for them to work on are soil health and water quality. In the Midden Brabant group, this learning process triggered the wish to collaborate with the water board. In a number of meetings, the farmers and water board officials exchanged ideas about how to manage water better and to improve soil health. They decided to improve their exchange of knowledge and data and work towards a more fine-grained understanding of the landscape and the water system. With this improved knowledge they expect to be able to focus water quality measures better.