Entrepreneurial competence in agriculture : characterization, identification, development and the role of the work environment

T. Lans

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


In the last few decades, primary agricultural production in the Netherlands has been
significantly influenced by firm expansion, innovation and diversification. These
developments suggest that, increasingly, farmers and growers require entrepreneurial
competence to continuously recognize and pursue new business opportunities. Though
entrepreneurial competence is seen as a potentially promising concept, current research
efforts i) have paid little attention to firms already in existence (like in agriculture), ii)
provide few methodological starting points for studying entrepreneurial competence
on the individual level, iii) and have paid little attention to social and task-related
influences on entrepreneurial competence development. The objective of this thesis
is to analyse how entrepreneurial competence can be characterized and identified,
how it develops and how it can be fostered in small agricultural firms. In order to
do so, entrepreneurial competence was studied using a comprehensive approach
to competence, which implies that a multi-method methodology was adopted.
Quantitative and qualitative methods were used in four empirical studies which
included a total of 500 participants.
A first characterization was made by researching self-awareness and beliefs about
improvability of general, but context-appropriate, descriptions of entrepreneurial
competencies. The results show an almost consistent underestimation of entrepreneurial
competencies and reveal that entrepreneurial competencies are seen as subject to at
least some development. Conceptions of entrepreneurial competencies are not uniform
within workplaces: elements of what is developed and can be developed further are
partly idiosyncratic. Secondly, entrepreneurial competence was identified in more detail
based on item-level descriptions which empirically define a competence domain. It was
revealed that three domains constitute the heart of entrepreneurial competence, namely
analysing, pursuing and networking. Thirdly, results obtained through comparing highand
low-performing firms, focusing on the task itself and using concrete work activities
as descriptors for competence, suggest that the relationship between entrepreneurial
performance and competence is not only influenced by business goals but also by
the owner-managers’ awareness. It is proposed that entrepreneurial performance is
correlated with the development of competence associated with the beginning of the
entrepreneurial process. Furthermore, the results suggest interdependence between
existing competence and competence development within competence domains
(horizontal development), and between competence domains (vertical development).
Finally, four factors in the small-business work environment were identified as
being crucial in the entrepreneurial learning process. In order of importance, these
were: support and guidance, external interaction, internal communication and task
characteristics, though differences in type of business opportunities represent slightly
different dynamics. The results suggest a two-layered interaction between learner and
work environment. Entrepreneurial learning of the owner-manager is influenced by
the work environment, which is in turn shaped/defined by the owner-manager.
The results of this thesis provide professionals active in sector development and
(vocational) education with clear steppingstones for developing competence-based
curricula and learning-oriented assessments, as well as general ideas for developing
learning environments that better reflect small-business dynamics.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Mulder, Martin, Promotor
  • Biemans, Harm, Co-promotor
  • Verstegen, Jos, Co-promotor
Award date18 Dec 2009
Place of Publication[S.l.
Print ISBNs9789085855217
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • education
  • competency based education
  • agriculture
  • entrepreneurship
  • work places
  • professional competence
  • small businesses
  • learning
  • netherlands
  • competences

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