Blue services in Flemish agriculture and horticulture

Sylvie Danckaert & Koen Carels

August 2009

In times when the role of agriculture is clearly expanding, water management is another social function to which agriculture can make a positive contribution.

Blue services are defined as ‘water-related services or management roles with a positive impact on the water system, which offer added value to society and are provided by (groups of) farmers or horticulturalists on a voluntary basis, and for which those farmers or horticulturalists receive market-level compensation’. It concerns services such as water conservation, water storage, good-quality water supply, reinforcement of the water-related landscape and waste water treatment. A service is considered to be rendered only when a farmer does more than is legally required of him.

The concept of blue services can be regarded as an operationalisation of the concept of ‘ecosystem services’. Agri-environmental commitments which indirectly influence water can be regarded as part of green-blue services. Whereas agri-environmental measures are completely paid for with public funds, the funds for blue services can also come from private sources or a PPP. In the case of blue services the measures can be determined through mutual consultation, whereas in the case of agri-environmental commitments they are imposed. Blue services need not be a goal in themselves; they are a means to contribute to the water policy. Depending on the cost-effectiveness, blue services or other instruments such as purchase (right of pre-emption, expropriation, obligation to purchase) or the compensation of damages can be considered.

In Flanders, agriculture partly contributes to the water policy via existing agri-environmental commitments and cross-compliance. Nearly all current measures are aimed at reducing nutrients, pesticides and sediment in surface and groundwater. The compensation for these services is determined mainly based on loss of production or income or cost of execution. During the Health Check the water policy was mentioned as one of the four new challenges for agriculture.

By looking at different case studies, it is attempted to further concretise the instrument of blue services. Blue services are based on a positive approach. In the studied cases different measures could be seen through which these services were provided, such as a reduced use of fertilisers or plant protection products, the protection of watercourses from direct contact with animals, active level control, restructuring and management of watercourses, the building and maintenance of nature-friendly banks, conversion to organic agriculture, conversion from arable land to grassland, the construction of water storage basins, the construction of water purification swamps, etc. In nearly all cases described the measures were also linked to the provision of advice and investment support.

The case studies show that not only the authorities are providers of blue services. Drinking water companies, breweries, producers of mineral water, water managers, etc. can also benefit from participating in cooperation agreements with farmers. In order to provide blue services, farmers can also unite in cooperatives or other types of associations. For water management this seems desirable as water does not stop at the edge of a property, and the measure will only be effective if as many farmers as possible participate. Therefore, it is best to focus on specific areas. Each basin has its own bottlenecks which require a specific solution (blue services). Through an integrated approach other objectives aside from water-related ones can also be realised.

The cases show that demo projects, test projects and an extension service (advice) are of great importance to convince farmers to provide blue services. They are also important in the further study of the effects of the service on business management in practice. Pilot projects or demos can be set up at active farms or test farms. Collaboration with the research institutions is advisable.

Currently, when a farmer is compensated for rendering blue services, the payment usually corresponds to the loss of production or income, the cost of execution or the costs saved. Additionally, in order to get the desired range of services onto the market, a number of market mechanisms could be used, such calls for tender, rewards based on producer enthusiasm or stock market prices (auctions) and rewards for results.

From the case studies some critical success factors were deduced for the development of forms of collaboration with a view to the provision of blue services in Flanders. Important factors are scale, custom-made solutions, time, communication, trust between the requesting party and the provider and fair compensation.

In the study the draft measures programme was screened and checked for elements it had in common with blue services. It was also indicated how these services could (theoretically) be developed.

The study must be seen as a starting point for the debate on blue services in Flemish agriculture and horticulture.

Original version:



Danckaert S. & Carels K.(2009)
Blauwe diensten door de Vlaamse land- en tuinbouw
Departement Landbouw en Visserij, afdeling Monitoring en Studie, Brussel.



Departement Landbouw en Visserij
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