Multifunctional agriculture WUR-INRA (the Netherlands)

Research of the Farming Systems Ecology Group aims to provide scientific support for continuous and sustainable development of agro-ecosystems with special reference to organic agriculture and reduced use of external inputs in both the Netherlands and abroad. This is one of our research topics.

During the last decade, instruments (models) for agricultural and environmental scenario studies have been developed. These were based on current knowledge of agro- ecological relationships. The models can be used to generate nearly optimal land use combinations, such as rotations in crop production and grassland and cattle management plans in dairy farming. The optimized objectives and limiting constraints are of agricultural, environmental and farm-economical nature. In this project the models will be operationalized and further elaborated. The operationalization will deal with making models ready-to-use within a structured software architecture, in which software components and data stores are built en ordered in such a way that rapid (re-)use is possible. The models will be parameterized for two case study area's within The Netherlands. Moreover, the models will be extended with spatially explicit relations and evaluation of multiple functions in rural landscapes. Relationships between agricultural practices, landscape layout with linear elements and ecological processes (habitat quality) will be quantified. Scenarios and evaluations of pratices aiming at improved biodiversity can be simulated.

Overall aim

The overall aim of the project is to increase insight in the possibilities and constraints for the simultaneous provision of multiple (productive and non-productive) functions, through further strengthening of multifunctional forms of agricultural activities at farm and regional level.


1. Agriculture has unused potential for contributing to the provision of multiple functions in rural areas. This potential can be used when productive activities, the management of landscape and biodiversity, and possibly other non-productive functions are combined at farm level and/or through institutional arrangements at regional level.

2. Research into the multifunctional character of agricultural practices, that combines insights and approaches from production ecology, landscape ecology and farming styles research may reveal such unused potentials.

3. A design approach that focuses on landscape identity, biodiversity and farm household strategies from an ecological and socio-economic perspective, is useful for informing decision-making processes of local stakeholders on developing multifunctionality.

The project focuses on the integration of agricultural practice with other services and functions. Services considered in this project mainly cover the contributions to (1) biodiversity and (2) the identity and legibility of landscapes.

Specific aims

1. Identify which opportunities and constraints exist for combining objectives of agricultural production, landscape identity and biodiversity, and where trade-offs and synergies occur.

Opportunities and constraints are to be analysed at different scale levels (field, farm, landscape), including:

  • Consequences of practices in agricultural fields for neighbouring green-blue network elements.
  • Consequences of green-blue network elements for agricultural fields (functional biodiversity).
  • Consequences of practices in agricultural fields for biodiversity in the fields.

2. Investigate to what extent potential combinations of agricultural production, landscape identity and biodiversity are differentiated between farming styles.

  • Analyse the current diversity of farm household strategies, with a special focus on differences in the use and management of agricultural fields and green-blue network elements.
  • Identify possible differences in levels of socio-economic, environmental and ecological performance between farming styles.
  • Identify ‘good farming practices’ and relevant innovations (novelties, synergies) embodied in these.
  • Design and evaluate farming system prototypes, that satisfy landscape, biodiversity and farm economic objectives, and that are adjusted to the demands and potentials of specific farming styles.

3. Investigate how opportunities for combining agricultural production, landscape identity and biodiversity are affected and potentially enhanced by institutional arrangements.

  • Identify the potential benefits for landscape identity and biodiversity of a co-ordinated approach to management practices of individual farms and fields (mosaic management).
  • Analyse the dynamics of farming styles in relation to different elements of the institutional environment (agricultural markets, environmental regulations, markets for non-productive functions, regional co-operative structures, etc.) and identify opportunities and threats arising from these.
  • Analyse potentials for synergies between farms and between farms and other rural functions (tourism, water management etc.) and develop appropriate institutional arrangements for valorising these.
  • Develop methods for assessing socio-economic, environmental and ecological performances at farm and regional level, as well as appropriate forms of farm advice and (model-based) learning systems that support farmers and other rural stakeholders in decision-making processes on multifunctionality.
Research approaches

The project elaborates and integrates 6 methodological components:

    1. Farming styles analysis (De Bruin & Van der Ploeg 1991; Antuma 1993)
    2. Food webs (Smeding 2001; Smeding & De Snoo 2003)
    3. Landscape prototyping (Geertsema 2002; Opdam et al. 2002)
    4. Model-based farming system design (Van der Ven 1996; Dogliotti 2003)
    5. Landscape identity and legibility (Hendriks & Stobbelaar 2003)
    6. Institutional innovation (Renting and Van der Ploeg, 2001)

    These are further elaborated and integrated in the following sub-projects:

    1. Farm household strategies and the socio-economic assessment of multifunctionality performance (PaulSwagemakers.doc)
    2. Biodiversity interactions between agricultural fields and green-blue networks (BartVenhorst.doc)
    3. Landscape prototypes for multifunctional farming (André Jellema)
    4. Model evaluation of consequences of agronomic practices for ecological processes and biodiversity (Jeroen Groot)
    5. The role of landscape identity in multifunctional agriculture (DerkJanStobbelaar.doc)
    6. Multifunctional agriculture and institutional innovation (FrancoisDaniel.doc)

    To develop an integrated view of the project, a brief summary of the research approaches for each sub-project and the relationships between the sub-projects are given.


    • Ontwerpen voor multi-functionele landbouw (download poster in PDF-format)
    • Design for multifunctional agriculture (download poster in PDF-format)