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NEW RESEARCH | Why farmers need to identify themselves as entrepreneurs

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Hållbara lantbrukare kommer automatiskt närmare slutkunden. Foto: Unsplash.

For the agricultural sector to successfully transition to more climate-smart and sustainable food production, farmers need to review their self-image. This is according to researchers at Halmstad University.

– The world needs more food and Sweden needs to produce more of its own food to prepare for uncertain times. At the same time, in order not to destroy the planet, the food produced needs to be more socially, economically and environmentally sustainable,” says Per-Ola Ulvenblad.

He teaches business administration and law at Halmstad University and is currently doing a PhD at his workplace. In his doctoral thesis, he has studied sustainable business model innovation in Swedish agricultural companies, more specifically how farmers who work with sustainable business models consider themselves.

The importance of diversified farming

– They identify themselves primarily as entrepreneurs, not producers. Of course, green farmers also want to make a profit, it’s their livelihood. But instead of thinking about producing as much wheat as possible on the largest possible area at the lowest cost, green entrepreneurs want to run their business with the best interests of the soil, animals and people in mind.

– Today, it is common to diversify your business model. In addition to milk production, you might organize farm visits, run a café or start a vineyard.

Per-Ola Ulvenblad is a forest owner and leases his land to a beef farmer. Photo: private.

A diversified agriculture has a sustainability value in itself. According to Per-Ola Ulvenblad, if every farmer does things a little differently, the sector becomes more diverse and more resilient to disasters of all kinds.

The entrepreneur at the heart of sustainable agriculture

He also argues that agriculture has traditionally had a too one-sided focus on economics, chemistry and increased production. But future Swedish agriculture will not be able to compete with it, as we will never be able to be the cheapest.

– If you look at yourself as an entrepreneur first and a primary producer second, you can see that sustainability is not an obstacle to production but part of value creation.

When farmers produce sustainable, nutritious products, and have good animal husbandry, value creation for customers increases.

– This also makes it more interesting for farmers to try to shorten the value chain and get closer to the end customer. And when that happens, they can appropriate a higher share of the value created in the value chain.

Intention as part of the business model

According to Per-Ola Ulvenblad, to understand how companies formulate and use their business model, the entrepreneur must be part of the equation.

– In my research I have added a new concept to the business model, value intention . Because behind every business model is an entrepreneur. And to understand sustainable entrepreneurship, it is essential to understand who they are and what their entrepreneurial goals are.

Stewardship – a developing stewardship

Ulvenblad also explains green farming with the concept of stewardship. He believes that farmers are driven to take the best possible care of the things they are responsible for, such as the family, the farm, the land, relationships with neighbors, customers, suppliers and others in the local environment.

– Their goal is to pass on the farm, agriculture and the area to many future generations, and they are determined to do so in the best possible way. In times of climate change and threatened biodiversity, this is an important approach that needs to be spread to other industries. Because then we can take care of the entire planet Earth,” says Per-Ola Ulvenblad.

Contact per-ola.ulvenblad@hh.se

Tips for organizations involved in advising farmers:

  • See farmers as entrepreneurs, rather than producers. Focus advice on what farmers should be able to do, not just what they need to know. It is important to strengthen leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship among entrepreneurs.
  • Have a coaching approach. Develop farmers’ decision-making and implementation skills.
  • Encourage many small and medium-sized sustainable and viable agricultural enterprises. This is good for self-sufficiency, economic resilience and biodiversity.

More about the thesis
Per-Ola Ulvenblad defends his thesis on October 12 at Halmstad University with the thesis Sustainable business model innovation in agri-firms. To the thesis.

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