Professor Joern Fischer was a guest author at the Landscapes Roundtable series at the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Blog (September 2013). Fischer´s discussion From Farm to Landscape: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Intensification raised very interesting questions on the applicability of intensification. We raise these questions again – starting with the first two questions this week:
- Question 1: Who intensifies?
- Question 2: Which crops?
We will then move forward to the following questions next week (28th April).
- Question 3: Who benefits?
- Question 4: How important is the scalability of an intensification action?
If you would already address all questions already during the first week that is of course also fine.
Link to Fischer´s discussion: From Farm to Landscape: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Intensification
Literature raised by Fischer:
- Garnett et al. in Nature: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/341/6141/33.short
- Chappell & La Valle: http://sites.tufts.edu/teli/files/2011/04/Food-security-and-biodiversity-Chappell-Lavalle.pdf
- Further blog post on the topic by Loos, Abson & Fischer and himself: http://ideas4sustainability.wordpress.com/2012/11/08/sustainable-intensification-not-a-blueprint-for-action/
- Holling & Meffe, 1996: Pathology of Natural Resource Management: http://www.ecology.ethz.ch/education/Ecosystem_Files/Holling_and_Meffe__1996__Pathology_of_Natural_Resource_Management.pdf
Further potentially interesting literature from the Liberation Bibliography:
- FAO (2011). Save and grow: A policymaker’s guide to sustainable intensification of smallholder crop production, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
- Firbank, L., J. Elliott, B. Drake, Y. Cao and R. Gooday (2013). “Evidence of sustainable intensification among British farms.” Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 173(0): 58-65.
- Garnett, T. and C. Godfray (2012). Sustainable intensification in agriculture. Navigating a course through competing food system priorities. Oxford, Food Climate Research Network and the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, University of Oxford: 51.
- Heaton, E., L. Schulte, M. Berti, H. Langeveld, W. Zegada-Lizarazu, D. Parrish and A. Monti (2013). “Managing a second-generation crop portfolio through sustainable intensification: Examples from the USA and the EU.” Biofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining: n/a-n/a.
- Bommarco, R., D. Kleijn and S. Potts (2013). “Ecological intensification: harnessing ecosystem services for food security.” Trends in ecology & evolution 28(4): 230-238.
- Kremen, C. and A. Miles (2012). “Ecosystem services in biologically diversified versus conventional farming systems: benefits, externalities, and trade-offs.” Ecology and Society 17(4): 40.
- Bengtsson, J. (2010). Applied (meta) community ecology: diversity and ecosystem services at the intersection of local and regional processes. Community Ecology. P. J. Morin and H. A. Verhoef, Oxford Univ. Press: 115-130.
- Bennett, A., G. Bending, D. Chandler, S. Hilton and P. Mills (2012). “Meeting the demand for crop production: the challenge of yield decline in crops grown in short rotations.” Biological Reviews 87(1): 52-71.
- Benton, T., D. Bryant, L. Cole and H. Crick (2002). “Linking agricultural practice to insect and bird populations: a historical study over three decades.” Journal of applied ecology 39(4): 673-687.
- Bianchi, F., C. Booij and T. Tscharntke (2006). “Sustainable pest regulation in agricultural landscapes: a review on landscape composition, biodiversity and natural pest control.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 273(1595): 1715-1727″
re Question 1: Who intensifies?
Joern Fischer is enthusiastic for the biodiversity of Romanian
Clearly, this is a very beautiful part of the world.
But it is not for us outsiders to tell the people who were born
and brought up there, and who earn a living by the sweat of their brow,
that they should not intensify their holdings.
Have _you_ ever tried scything a hectare or two of hay?
If I lived and farmed there, I’d take a bank loan and buy some NPK.
Either that, or start a bed and breakfast for the foreign tourists.
Just back from seeing to our horses & sheep.
Even if the rest of the world is enjoying a lazy Easter Monday,
they need looking after every day …
re For example, his (sic.) Romanian villages function perfectly well,
thank you very much, as it is
? Perfectly well?
“A farming family here can expect to live on around 4,000 euros
($5,235) a year, often supplemented by income from another job.
Less than half of the households have bathrooms. ”
Transylvania Hay Country
“… the value added/worker is extremely low (around 30 % of the
Euro Area level), given the poor level of machinery endowment
(1.4 of the Euro Area level), a high proportion of population
working in agriculture (30% of the working population), land
fragmentation and low investments.
” Without the application of urgent economic measures (in the
spirit of the Europe 2020 strategy and of a real convergence
with the Eurozone), Romania risks becoming a permanent
less-favoured country in the European Union.
Romania – State of the Nation, July 2013
thank you for your active participation again this week! While it is clear that intensification, the need for it and its potential benefits are controversial, I would like to point to one of the questions posted above.
Specifically, when speaking about intensification, do you feel that a general discussion brings forth , or wouldn’t it make much more sense to speak for example about the differences in intensification of cereals and vegetables (if there are any)? Does anyone of you know of recent work that has been done, looking at how intensification and its benefits (and risks) might differ, depending on which crops (or livestock) are intensified?
Furthermore I would like to repoint to Maayan’s question: “But, it is also fair to ask about communities that aren’t producing enough calories; I would be interested in other’s thoughts on that.”
Re: the differences in intensification of cereals and vegetables (if
there are any)? Does anyone of you know of recent work that has been
done, looking at how intensification and its benefits (and risks)
might differ, depending on which crops (or livestock) are
This would be a good question to ask next month at Montpellier.
Meanwhile, if ‘more intensified’ = conventional,
and ‘less intensified’ = organic,then try, e.g.
# 1. “Official Swedish statistics (SCB, 2006) reveal that yields of
organically grown crops are 20 to 60% lower than those of
conventionally grown crops.
Yields of organically grown legumes (peas and beans) and
grass/clover leys are, on average, 20% lower (Fig. 2), whereas
yields of cereals are 46% lower and yields of potatoes as much
as 60% lower than in conventional production.
National statistics for Finland (Statistics Finland, 2007;
Finnish Food Safety Authority, 2006) show a similar picture”
Can Organic Crop Production Feed the World?”
Holger Kirchmann, Lars Bergström, Thomas Kätterer, Olof Andrén
and Rune Andersson
Organic Crop Production – Ambitions and Limitations”
H. Kirchmann, L. Bergström,eds., 2008, p. 39-72,
Springer, Dordrecht, The Netherlands
But n.b. there is enormous uncertainty (noise) in such statistics
# 2. “This issue of heterogeneity is at the heart of the problem
faced by both conventional and organic production in their
relation to the environment. While the organic standards are
process oriented , i.e. they describe and limit the conditions
under which production is allowed, there is no specific focus
on the end product , and therefore also no focus on the site
specific environmental bad outputs created during production.
This might explain the huge variation found between the studies.”
A meta – analysis of the differences in environmental impacts
between organic and conventional farming.”
Mondelaers, K., Aertsens, J. , Van Huylenbroeck, G. (2009).
British Food Journal 11 1 (10) , 1098 – 1119 .
# 3. “FIG. 4. Frequency distribution of rice grain yield without nitrogen
fertilizer application in 42 different farmer’s fields in the Guimba
Municipality, Central Luzon, Philippines”
Ecological intensification of cereal production systems:
Yield potential, soil quality, and precision agriculture”
K. G. Cassmann
Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA
Vol. 96, pp. 5952–5959, May 1999
# 4. “In sum, there is no clear pattern in performance: each
country and sector has different rates of income per
annual work unit.”
Organic versus conventional farming, which performs better
financially ? An overview of organic field crop and milk production
in selected Member States”
European Commission Farm Economics Brief No 4 | November 2013
Now back to sieving compost …
Benjamin Graub said
We will then move forward to the following questions next week (28th April).
Question 3: Who benefits?
1. Producers benefit.
2. Consumers benefit.
3. Onlookers benefit.
All three of them benefit from the intensification of agriculture.
#1. The Workers
(Farm) workers benefit because intensification pays better and “subsistence farming is a form of poverty trap” 
Evidence? See e.g. the World Bank Policy Research Working Paper on the profit equations, profit differentials, and opportunity costs, for market and for subsistence farms in Madagascar 
And for Europe, see e.g. the Humboldt Forum for Food and Agriculture Working Paper 03/2013 
Still not convinced? Did you know that more than 20,000 seasonal agricultural workers migrate to and fro across the EU?
- Where do they come from? – From Romania and Bulgaria.
- Where do they come to? – To the UK.
- Why come all that way? – Because the (intensive) UK farms offer far better pay and conditions the (non-intensive) farms in Romania and Bulgaria.
#2. The Consumers
(Food) consumers benefit from intensification;because it reduces the cost they would otherwise have to pay at the supermarket checkout.
Evidence? Already “a third of the UK are struggling to eat healthily. … “Our survey revealed two thirds of people in the UK wish (that) they could eat more healthily, but 42% said they can’t because it’s too expensive” ; and thats from intensive farms. If they had to buy organic/un-intensive it would be even more expensive:
- AMS data show that “the price premium for organic dairy products varied from 16% (shredded cheese) to 210% (sour cream); Average premium +85%” 
- Mark Shepard’s New Forest Farm in Wisconsin “– an incredible food-savanna” sells his in-shell filberts (hazel nuts) at $4.00 per lb . Thats more than 4 times the open-market price ($0.70 per pound) from intensive nutteries .
#3. The Onlookers
(Farm) onlookers benefit. Even townies who couldn’t tell you the difference between a martingale and a freemartin benefit. Writing about “intensification”, “resilience”, “sustainability”, “socio-ecology”, … , has become a nice little academic money-spinner.
Evidence? This onlooker project gets more than USD 5.2 million (EURO 3.8 million) from EU taxpayers 
 “When yield gaps are poverty traps: The paradigm of ecological intensification in African smallholder agriculture”
Pablo Tittonell, Ken E. Giller
Field Crops Research 143 (2013) 76–90
 “How Costly Is It for Poor Farmers to Lift Themselves Out of Subsistence?”
Olivier Cadot, Laure Dutoit, Marcelo Olarreaga
World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 3881, April 2006
 “The value of agricultural productivity in the European Union”
Noleppa, S.; von Witzke, H.; Cartsburg, M. (2013)
 “ORCHARD ECONOMICS: THE COSTS AND RETURNS OF ESTABLISHING AND PRODUCING HAZELNUTS IN THE WILLAMETTE VALLEY”
James W. Julian, Clark F. Seavert, and Jeff L. Olsen
Oregon State University Extension Service
 AMS Weekly Retail Report for Conventional and Organic Dairy Products, from AMS Dairy Retail Report Vol. 79 – No. 30 Thursday, July 26, 2012. Quoted by
Understanding Organic Pricing and Costs of Production”
Emily Post and Jeff Schahczenski,
National Sustainable Agriculture information Service
The concept (I think) is most simply applied as a means to replace high-input management in industrial, (already “intense”) farms with lower-input management which produces similar yields and similar net profits.
There is certainly good evidence around the economic viability of such approaches (in these two papers, “organic” may stand in for many of the management approaches that comprise ecological intensification):
- Sandhu, H. S., Wratten, S. D., Cullen, R., & Case, B. (2008). The future of farming: the value of ecosystem services in conventional and organic arable land. An experimental approach. Ecological Economics 64(4): 835-848
- Pimentel, D., Hepperly, P., Hanson, J., Douds, D., & Seidel, R. (2005). Environmental, energetic, and economic comparisons of organic and conventional farming systems. BioScience 55(7), 573-582.
For this application, the goal isn’t to produce more calories, but rather to decrease the inputs and cultivate ecosystem services that replace them. If applied in the developed world, it is the most simple politically, with no issues of imposing/controlling/paternalistic development work.
Fischer notes that intensification may be unnecessary. For example, his Romanian villages function perfectly well, thank you very much, as it is – products are locally produced and consumed, while supporting a gorgeous and biodiverse natural community, and it’s enough. No intensification necessary. It is clear that low intensity farms can be economical, sustainable, and productive enough to generate more than subsistence level calories (see Mark Shepard’s New Forest Farm in Wisconsin – an incredible food-savanna). But, it is also fair to ask about communities that aren’t producing enough calories; I would be interested in other’s thoughts on that.
- This reply was modified 3 years, 3 months ago by Maayan Kreitzman. Reason: formatting
Thanks again for your post and pointing out the various benefits of intensification you see for different stakeholder groups.
Before we are closing this discussion on Sunday (5th) – would anyone like to add on to Richard’s points? Are there potentially trade-offs between the interests of different stakeholder groups affected by intensification?!
Thank you all for participating and please also don’t miss next week’s discussion moderated by Paul Bordoni on
SUSTAINABLE VS ECOLOGICAL VS ECOFUNCTIONAL INTENSIFICATION
The topic ‘Application of Intensification’ is closed to new replies.