Three of the four land-based colleges in Scotland are to pursue a full merger to streamline courses and wipe out crossover of skills training.
Elmwood and Oatridge Colleges and the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) said the merger would hinge on due diligence being carried out, which could take at least a year.
A joint statement said the colleges shared a vision to offer comprehensive education and business support for land-based industries. They were committed to a "new model of integrated academic and practical expertise".
The fourth college, Barony, is considering its options. The move follows the north-of-the-border merger of the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute and the Scottish Crop Research Institute last year to form the James Hutton Institute. Universities are also toying with mergers.
An SAC representative said: "It's part of the Scottish Government's effort to see where synergies can be developed in post-16 education.
But he added: "I don't foresee an amalgamation of campuses. Although we are one organisation there are strong local loyalties."
While he had not seen any figures on potential cost savings, he said he was aware of work to avoid competing with other colleges or duplicating courses.
Elmwood College in north-east Fife has 5,000 students and is strong on horticulture training, having shifted agriculture courses to Oatridge College near Edinburgh, which has 3,500 students. SAC has campuses in Ayr, Aberdeen and Edinburgh.
Education secretary Michael Russell said: "This is excellent news and comes ahead of plans to reform post-16 learning. Bringing together the distinctive contributions of Elmwood, Oatridge and SAC is in tune with my thinking."
Chris Moody, chief executive, Landex
"The colleges in Scotland other than the Scottish Agricultural College are relatively small and one can see the common sense in becoming part of a bigger organisation. Merging offers a fair degree of protection for that specialism, but as an outsider I don't have enough details to make an informed comment."