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Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition • FSN Forum

Re: Harnessing the benefits of ecosystem services for effective ecological intensification in agriculture

Davy McCracken
Davy McCrackenScotland’s Rural CollegeUnited Kingdom

Farming systems across Europe can vary markedly from place to place. A range of factors can influence what types of production are practiced in any one place. However, climate and soil type are especially important in dictating the type and intensity of management that is possible.

As a result of these physical limits on production, the possible management practices tend to be geographically differentiated. Hence most of Europe’s lowlands are capable of supporting relatively intensive arable, permanent crop, dairy and beef systems, while soil and climatic constraints in the uplands generally means that farming is based on extensive livestock grazing of natural and semi-natural vegetation.

While there can be marked differences in the environmental challenges facing lowland and upland farming systems, water quality and flooding concerns are not only common to both but management decisions and land use change in the uplands can have important implications for the lowlands. In addition, climate change mitigation and adaptation will strongly influence future lowland and upland farming systems.

Lowland farming systems can offer greater returns on financial investment, but although important for food security the resulting intensive systems of production are also associated with ongoing concerns about diffuse pollution, biodiversity loss and adverse impacts on soil and water resources.

In contrast, although upland farming systems are recognised as being important for the maintenance of many habitats and species of high nature conservation importance, the limited number of livestock produced for market each year and the associated current reliance on agricultural support policies for a major component of income makes them very vulnerable to changes to market prices and Common Agricultural Policy support mechanisms.

There can therefore be marked differences in the issues, and the scale at which they need to be tackled, between lowland and upland farming systems. But all have one thing in common - in order to be truly sustainable into the future the farming systems being practiced will need to change markedly. In particular, whether in the lowlands or uplands, our future farming systems will need to involve more sustainable use of resources and greater integration with other land uses. This will not only help diversify the inputs and income sources on those farms but will also serve to increase their resilience to future climatic, economic and resource supply changes.

A two-day conference being held in Edinburgh on 1st and 2nd of March 2016 will seek to address these issues and encourage debate on the benefits to be gained from more sustainable resource use and greater integration of different land uses on lowland and upland farming systems. The conference is the 11th in a series of biennial Agriculture and the Environment conferences organised by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), in association with the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), Forest Research, the James Hutton Institute (JHI) and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

The detailed programme is in the process of being finalised, but it will feature a total of twenty-four presentations across four major themes:

How can landscape scale improvements in water quality and soil health be achieved in practice? Examples of presentations in this session include:

  • Approaches to solving diffuse pollution in agricultural and forestry catchments
  • Are Scotland’s soils physically degrading?
  • Achieving multiple benefits from Rural Sustainable Drainage Systems

What scope is there for integrating woodland, wetland and biodiversity management effectively into upland farming systems? Examples of presentations in this session include:

  • Economic and environmental benefits from woodland and wetland creation in the Cairngorms National Park
  • How can commercial woodland production be integrated into upland sheep systems?
  • Developing upland agri-environment measures

Does sustainable intensification have a role to play in our future farming systems? Examples of presentations in this session include:

  • Achieving trade-offs between food production, greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity in lowland arable farming systems
  • Is ecological intensification feasible in intensive farming systems?
  • The impact of land management on livestock productivity and implications for human and animal health

How does the policy landscape need to change to help a move to more sustainable farming systems involving greater integration of other land uses? Examples of presentations in this session include:

  • The importance of audits of supply chains in providing an essential wider context for developing sustainable farming systems
  • How can agricultural production systems also be used to tackle climate change and enhance natural and social capital?
  • Developing transformational change in farming, food and land use systems

Registration for the conference is now open and bookings can be made by contacting:Karen McCracken on Karen.mccracken@sac.co.uk or by phone on 0044 (0)1292 525 282. Additional information and updates about this conference will be posted at www.sruc.ac.uk/srucsepaconf

The conference aims to present the best possible scientific understanding of the complexities associated with how best to achieve such an integration in practice. It will also include case studies of good practice farming, agro-forestry and agro-ecology systems.  Finally, it will provide a forum to discuss how researchers, land managers and policy makers can help develop and support multi-functional agriculture and wider ecosystem services within a healthy and thriving rural economy.

Professor Davy McCracken (SRUC and Chair of the Conference Organising Committee)