Farmers are increasingly required to communicate electronically with the authorities. This is obligatory regarding the management of direct payments and the livestock census. Agroscope interviewed farmers on their perception of the administrative workload.
Over the past 20 years, many governments throughout the world have launched electronic management initiatives. Electronic government services, abbreviated as e-government, can be defined as the use of digital information technology for implementing and supporting information, communication and transaction (ICT) processes between state institutions and citizens of the state.
e-government systems for the agricultural sector
Many governments have also invested in e-government systems for the agricultural sector. The European governments developed electronic systems for two main reasons: firstly, to support the identification and traceability of animals from birth to slaughter for reasons of animal and public health, and secondly, to manage the application for and disbursement of direct payments between the government and farmers. Because of these developments, farmers are expected to make increasing use of e-government services.
In Switzerland all farmers must submit electronic datasets on land use and on their livestock twice yearly to the cantonal authorities in order to prove their eligibility for subsidies under the Direct Payment Ordinance. A study from 2019 has shown that around a third of Swiss farmers have coped quite well with the transition from paper to electronic forms, whilst 40% of the farmers stated that their administrative workload has increased owing to the use of e-government services.
Study on the e-government factors influencing perceived administrative workload
Our study investigated what factors influenced the extent to which farmers experienced the use of such services as burdensome. We also developed a concept in order to categorise these factors for the agricultural sector.
We conducted a qualitative case study in Switzerland and interviewed six farmers personally using contrastive sampling – in other words, farmers with opposing attitudes to e-government were interviewed. Thematic analysis was used to study the interviews. Influencing factors from four different areas were discovered:
- Characteristics of the farm and farm manager (e.g. farm structure, farmer’s attitude towards ICT, farmer’s ICT skills, use of external support, work organisation and infrastructure);
- e-government service usage characteristics (e.g. quantity and frequency of data input and duration of use);
- Perceived characteristics of e-government (e.g. network, documentation, software design, complexity, farm compatibility and duplication of work); and
- Perceived effects on the farm (data security).
We discovered that the use of e-government services has no organisational benefits for family farms. Our results offer a conceptual framework for understanding why e-government services can contribute either to a reduction or an increase in farmers’ perceived administrative workload. Furthermore, the study provides policy-relevant information on the factors that play a role in digital direct payment management for reducing farmers’ administrative workload.
- Swiss farmers spend an average 3–5% of their total working hours on administrative tasks imposed on them by the direct payment system.
- The attitude of farmers towards information and communication technology, ICT skills, the use of external support, work organisation and ICT infrastructure influence the successful adoption of e-government services.
- The use of e-government services provides no organisational benefits for family farms.
- Our findings show that the farmers’ perception of e-government services cannot be understood without taking account of their attitude to ICT.
- The attitude towards ICT is influenced by the personality of the farmer and by his or her previous experiences.