Bridging the gap between researchers, growers, extension and industry in organic strawberry production : a case study on the agricultural knowledge network of central coastal California

University essay from SLU/Department of Plant Protection Biology

Abstract: The aim of this research was to investigate how and why the development of a knowledge network between researchers, growers, extension agents and industry impacts the knowledge creation and dissemination in organic agricultural networks. Theoretically, we drew upon the concept of Embeddedness in agro-food networks. Empirically, we relied on a case study research by utilizing multiple sources of data. For many decades strawberry growers in California have relied on methyl bromide. Despite the heavy dependence on this soil fumigant, a phase out was scheduled by the Montreal protocol. In order to meet the emerging sustainability demands of organic strawberry production and strengthen the communication between researchers, extension, growers and industry, an organic research network was initiated in central coastal California in 2004. In this research, the case was bounded by space (central coastal California), activity (network activities) and time (progress of the network). Τhe complete set of data includes both primary data (semi- structured and open-ended interviews) and secondary data (research papers, digital material and documentation). The empirical findings showcased the gradual building of trust between the actors of the network throughout the years. The common research activities and the previous good relationship between growers, extension agents and researchers was the baseline of this network. Additionally, the successful commercialization of the new organic techniques produced by the research activities, played a major role on the organic strawberry production of the area. Three different types of Embeddedness played an important role in explaining the ‘knowledge processes’ in this network. More specifically, Relational Embeddedness -based on casual interaction and trust- constitutes the most plausible explanation of the network’s performance. Structural Embeddedness along with the Proximity aspect has complimentary function. Overall, the network is consisted of knowledge creators (those who conduct the research), knowledge funnels (those who channel the knowledge) and knowledge receivers (those who receive the knowledge). The initiation of the research network, the participatory nature of the research, the unique role of extension agency and the connection to private sector re-enforced the network linkages by bringing all the different actors together.

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