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Low-Input Farming and Territories - Integrating knowledge for improving ecosystem-based farming

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - LIFT (Low-Input Farming and Territories - Integrating knowledge for improving ecosystem-based farming)

Reporting period: 2019-11-01 to 2021-04-30

Ecological approaches to farming practices are gaining interest across Europe. As this interest grows there is a pressing need to assess the potential contributions these practices may make, the contexts in which they function and their attractiveness to farmers as potential adopters. In particular, ecological agriculture must be assessed against the aim of promoting the improved performance and sustainability of farms, rural environment, rural societies and economies, together.
The overall goal of LIFT is to identify the potential benefits of the adoption of ecological farming in the EU and to understand how socio-economic and policy factors impact the adoption, performance and sustainability of ecological farming at various scales, from the level of the single farm to that of a territory.
LIFT will assess the determinants of adoption of ecological approaches, and evaluate the performance and overall sustainability of these approaches in comparison to more conventional agriculture across a range of farm systems and geographic scales. LIFT will develop new private arrangements and policy instruments that could improve the adoption and subsequent performance and sustainability of the rural nexus. LIFT will suggest an innovative framework for multi-scale sustainability assessment aimed at identifying critical paths toward the adoption of ecological approaches to enhance public goods and ecosystem services delivery. This will be achieved through the integration of transdisciplinary scientific knowledge and stakeholder expertise to co-develop innovative decision-support tools.
The project will inform and support EU priorities relating to agriculture and the environment in order to promote the performance and sustainability of the combined rural system. At least 30 case studies will be covered in order to reflect the enormous variety in the socio-economic and bio-physical conditions for agriculture across the EU.
As a first step in providing a novel typology and protocol to assign farms to ecological types, a literature review was conducted to identify existing categorisations of farm types based on the degree of uptake of ecological approaches and practices to farming. There are a number of ways to group farming systems based on similarities in their management ethos or ecological farming practices, and the literature review has suggested the following: conservation agriculture; low-input faming: integrated farming; organic and biodynamic farming; agroecology. Based on the literature and expert judgement, LIFT suggests a framework to cluster farming practices, and provide a first attempt to link the farming systems with farming practices. Stakeholders’ feedback on a first version of the LIFT typology was useful to identify the four ecological dimensions that constitute the basis of the typology. Stakeholders also expressed the preference for the use of summary/unique indicators to classify farms, which is reflected in the LIFT typology protocol by the adoption of easily applicable scoring systems to translate different farming practices into a common metric.
As a first step in assessing the drivers of farm adoption of ecological practices, a conceptual framework on farmers’ uptake of ecological approaches across the supply chain has been developed, distinguishing between endogenous, as well as exogenous factors such as: (i) motivational factors; (ii) farmers’ self-identity; (iii) farm characteristics; (iv) supply-chain characteristics; (v) institutional conditions (including policy framework); and (vi) consumers’ preferences and demands. The decision to uptake ecological approaches was approached across four different dimensions, according to their: (i) timing; (ii) intensity/extensity; (iii) size of change, and (iv) type of practices adopted. Two methodological approaches for understanding the drivers of farmers’ uptake of ecological approaches are suggested: psychometric methodology and qualitative interviews, using the means-end chain and laddering approach.
A qualitative meta-analysis of the spatial distribution of ecological agriculture, incorporating systems (e.g. integrated production), bundles of practices (e.g. green control measures) and single practices (e.g. conservation tillage) has been performed. The main finding is that spatial clustering is a prominent feature of ecological farming systems and practices.
A discourse analysis explored what types of discourses are used in RDPs and other agricultural policy documents in 6 MSs (France, Germany (Bavaria), Hungary, Poland, Romania and Sweden), and how they incorporate ecological approaches across 3 CAP periods. Ecological approaches are mainly depicted with the multifunctionality discourse with two dominating sub-discourses of nature conservation and agri-ruralism. Nevertheless, an increase in the use of the neomercantilist discourse is observed in the last CAP period. Farming systems related to agroecology, biodiversity-based and organic farming are among the most commonly mentioned.
A notable work is the collection of primary data through the specific large-scale farmer survey, from more than 1,600 farmers across 12 EU countries. The data include detailed information on farming practices, farmers’ attitudes, and socio-demographic/economic/structural characteristics, and are being used in analyses on adoption of ecological practices, performance of ecological practices and role of policies.
A free software (R-package “sfaR”) was created to allow users to assess farm technical efficiency depending on the intensity of practices, with latent class modelling and stochastic frontier analysis.
Results: - A novel typology of farms defining the level of uptake of ecological approaches into each farm, and a protocol to assign a farm to an ecological type, based on FADN data, going beyond the state of the art.
- Identification of the drivers of adoption of ecological approaches and the sources of performance and sustainability differences between farms of different types across a variety of contexts in the EU.
- Policy recommendations to improve performance and sustainability of ecological agriculture. This will go beyond the state of the art through suggestions of innovative public and private instruments.
- An innovative framework of multi-scale sustainability assessment.
- Two free knowledge-based tools, namely a “typology-tool” allowing users to assign farms to ecological types, and an “adoption-tool” allowing users to predict adoption rates of ecological farming on a territory. They will be available in a specific MOOC dedicated to LIFT results.
Potential impacts:
• “Improved integrated capacity and method to assess the sustainability of different agro-ecological approaches”
• “Increases in productivity, delivery of public goods and job creation through improved agro-ecological approaches and market and policy incentives”
• “Strengthened transdisciplinary research and integrated scientific support for relevant EU policies and priorities”
• Enhanced innovation capacity of private companies or farmers’ organisations by triggering new forms of cooperation between the stakeholders
• New market opportunities in the territories covered by the CSs
• Strengthen the competitiveness of the EU agricultural sector in terms of exports
• Suggestions on how to mitigate environmental issues and to foster employment in territories
• Promoting gender equality towards the farming population