Farming for Nature: ultimate nature-inclusive agriculture?

Published on
February 16, 2018

It IS possible: farmers making large operational management adaptations in favour of nature and biodiversity. In addition to the nature-related payments, they managed to generate a partial income from food production and various activities. The project ‘Farming for Nature' makes this clear. After ten years, three farms in Overijssel and one in South Holland have become more extensive with varied and attractive landscapes, flowery meadows and fields and a good water quality. Hoeve Biesland, for example, has grown into a multi-faceted farm that is trendsetting in the area of nature conservation and locally produced food in South Holland.

Since 2002, the farms have been pilot locations for "Farming for Nature". The principles include a closed nutrient cycle, higher water levels and care for landscape elements. The four started to work according to these principles in 2008. Recently the results have been published of the study into working with Farming for Nature and what this implicates for operational management and ecology. The organisational side has also been investigated: like collaboration, contracts and financing.

“The farms needed time for the transition to another way of working and to acquire the necessary skills," says project leader Judith Westerink of Wageningen Environmental Research. “On farm level there is depletion, because of the removal of the food product. This gave way to a lower production level. Farmers need to manage diverse qualities of feed and fodder and the cattle breeds needed to be changed.”

“After ten years of extensive farming it appears that the soil fertility of the productive plots of the farms is hardly declining yet," says Jan Willem Erisman, Director of the (participating) Louis Bolk Institute. While the plots are more flowery than on normal farms, also here most biodiversity is occurring in the fringes and the more natural landscape elements. The two brooks under study that have been transferred into more natural flows, have regained a fish population adapted to fast flowing water, as was intended. Water quality is good on most indicators. It is disappointing that the meadow bird population keeps declining in Biesland, despite the favourable conditions created by Farming for Nature (wet and flowery meadows, fit for chicks). Possibly this has to do with the lack of tranquillity and open space in this urban environment. The water quality is starting to improve in Biesland.

Farming for Nature is a form of nature-inclusive agriculture with quite some impact on the agricultural system. For that reason, the remuneration that goes with Farming for Nature means an important source of income to the farmers. The system is especially suited to apply in areas, that would demand an extensive way of farming: fringes of nature areas, creek valleys, heritage landscapes, urban fringes and areas where rising water levels is needed. Farming for Nature may contribute to the reconnection of scattered landscapes and to the combination of several societal services. Important recommendations are that Farming for Nature should be embedded in an area approach with other nature-inclusive farms and nature areas and that the farmers should be supported in developing skills and by means of a joint planning of their landscape management.

The research project was carried out by Wageningen Environmental Research, Wageningen Livestock Research and the Louis Bolk Institute.

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