Land fragmentation in agriculture – causes, consequences and measures (LANDFRAG)
The technical and economic development in agriculture leads to the need to increase the area of land on many farms. Since the possibilities for establishing new agricultural land (e.g. through cultivation) are limited, farmers rely on access to farmland on other properties, sometimes through purchase, often by renting. Over time, this has for many farmers led to scattering of farmland (land fragmentation). Therefore, in the farm holdings internal transport related to spring work, harvesting, spreading of manure and other work operations expands. This increases machinery and labor costs, climate emissions and road traffic. The problem becomes obvious in cases with cross transportation, for example, when a farmer rents land several miles away near another farmer, who rents land near the former. This means that the locus of the problem is not on the single farm, but prevails on a multi-farm level. Thus, farmers cannot solve the problem individually. Mapping and coordination in a larger farming area is thus needed. Moreover, the problem is not only technical. One must also pay attention to the people who own and operate the farms.
The cross-disciplinary research project Landfrag has been set up to map and test different types of coordination that can reduce the problem of land fragmentation. This effort is accomplished in cooperation with farmers, owners, consultants, agricultural authorities and organizations. In dialogue with the county governors partaking in the project, we have chosen eight municipalities. Here we try out plans for local meetings with farmers and owners (Work Package 4). In this way, Landfrag is an action research project. The local meetings are prepared, invited and conducted in collaboration between researchers on the project and local actors, such as municipal agricultural authorities, agricultural advisory services in the region, local farmers’ organizations and co-operative organizations such as Tine Consulting. In some areas, employees from the County Governors Agriculture Department also contribute at the local meetings. The meetings are deliberately held in the evening, last 2-3 hours with a three-piece program: 1) general information on the problem (map visualizations, economic consequences), 2) local «voices», and 3) group discussion with subsequent assessment in plenary, including challenging the participants regarding taking part in an eventual local project. Most often, farmers attend the meetings, but in the local follow-up it is also important to involve farm owners. As of November 2018 there have been local meetings in six municipalities. Meetings in the two remaining municipalities will be held in January 2019. There are various forms of local follow-up in the eight test areas. Various measures have been proposed, such as organized meetings between users and owners and land banks. In such local actions facilitating digital, illustrative maps for modeling of properties, rented land and transport distances has turned out as very informative and motivating (Work Package 1). Based on the map models, research is being done to develop models for calculating economic and environmental consequences of land fragmentation (Work Package 2). Summary reports are written after each local meeting. Further in the project, an important task is through interviews to clarify the experiences of farmers and owners concerning the local meetings (Work Package 3).
The project has an annual conference for the project participants. At the June 2018 conference, research partners from Finland and Switzerland presented experiences from their countries. These presentations showed that the problem of land fragmentation and planned measures resemble a lot in Norway and Finland, while the problem is experienced differently in Switzerland. Presentations from the conferences, summary of experiences from the local meetings and other information is gathered on the project website: https://landfrag.no/
Professionally, the project is organized along four work packages: 1) Appropriate digital map tools for describing and visualizing land fragmentation and transport distances, 2) Models to show economic effects, 3) Farmers and owners’ experiences and views, and 4) Local meetings. The project is a collaboration between Ruralis, NIBIO, Nordlandsforskning, NMBU, LUKE (Finland), Agroscope (Switzerland), Tine, Norwegian Agricultural Advisory Board (NLR), Norwegian Farmers’ Union, Norwegian Smallholders’ Union, and eight county governors. The project is funded by the Research and Development Fund for Agriculture and the Food Industry, with Tine SA and the county governors as co-funders. The project is managed by Ruralis and is ongoing between 1.4.2017 and 31.3.2020.