Understanding crop and farm management : links to farm characteristics, productivity, biodiversity, marketing channels and perceptions of climate change

Abstract: Agriculture faces challenges in meeting rising demand for food, feed, fibre and fuel while coping with pressure from globalisation, limited natural resources and climate change. Farmers will choose management practices based on their goals and available resources and these practices will influence farm performance. The aim of this thesis was to understand farmers’ crop and farm management practices and their links to farm(er) characteristics, productivity, biodiversity, marketing channels and perceptions of climate change. Specific objectives were to i) identify factors influencing crop choice and crop rotations on organic farms, ii) evaluate effects of management practices on barley performance indicators, iii) investigate farmers’ perceptions and adaptation strategies to climate change, and iv) explore linkages between marketing channels, farm characteristics and biodiversity. Information from semi-structured interviews, a questionnaire, barley growth and yield indicators and biodiversity records were used. In total, 31 farms (9 conventional, 22 organic) were studied in the Uppland province in Sweden. Crop choice and rotation on organic farms were mainly determined by price, need for feed, traditions, biophysical factors and environmental concerns. Arable farmers often grew cereals for their profitability, and their crop choices resulted in rotations that required intensive management to maintain high yields. Barley grain yield was significantly higher on conventional than organic farms, suggesting that chemical fertilisers and herbicides are more effective than organic manures or good crop rotations. Several older farmers (>50 years) perceived a change in climate that they associated with longer growing seasons, extreme weather events and more pests and weeds. To deal with weather variability and climate change, organic farmers tended to use proactive approaches such as crop rotation and diversification, while many conventional farmers shifted sowing and harvesting time and used more crop protection. Farmers sold their products through local, distant and a combination of marketing channels. Farmers selling locally tended to have smaller farms with higher biodiversity than farmers using distant marketing channels. This thesis demonstrates that management practices are often influenced by farmers’ goals, experience and farm characteristics. Combining qualitative and quantitative research contributes to better understanding of management practices and their links with farm characteristics, crop yield, climate change adaptation, marketing and farm biodiversity. This knowledge will be useful in regional policies, farm advisory and training.

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