A sweet thank you note written on a returned landholder survey.
In my time doing interviews with farmers in Australia, Nova Scotia and the Falklands I have probably consumed a few hundred cups of tea. Now I’m a coffee gal, generally, but it feels social to sit with a cuppa over an interview, and I like how it structures the interaction. There are clearer rules for having tea than there are for conducting interviews – particularly being the ‘subject’ of one. In fact, the protocols that do exist for interviews I don’t like, being too formal and seeming to frame the interviewer as the expert. When you accept a cup of tea, the farmer as host takes control of the proceedings, and as guest I become a grateful recipient of hospitality as well as their expertise.
Earlier this year, Simon and Mhari and I were brainstorming how to inspire a high response rate for a survey of a small farmer population (~n=225), that had to be a single mail-out for time reasons. Simon suggested including a teabag. So off we went. Boxes of English Breakfast were purchased and individually packaged envelopes included with each survey. We hoped farmers would come back from the barn after morning chores and do the short survey over a cuppa. Well, we’re just short of 12% completion rate so far, with only a trickle now coming in. Though we have had some sweet notes about the tea (see above), I think we can confidently say that tea is not enough of a incentive. Does this indicate a cultural change to coffee among farmers? Maybe a K-cup would have been a better idea. But it was worth a try.
Our typology of Nova Scotia farm fragmentation based on the number of non-contiguous parcels and the time to drive across the two furthest apart parcels.
When I moved back to Canada from Australia, and started interviewing farmers in Nova Scotia, I was surprised at how small and fragmented their holdings were. I found myself wondering how this spatial pattern influenced their management. Does it mean that it is harder to think of a farm as an ecosystem, and manage accordingly? Or is it a boon for biodiversity, as remoter parcels are left to nature? I threw a few questions about farm fragmentation on our Marginal Land survey last year, and those preliminary results are now in, recently presented on a poster at ISSRM, Farm as ecosystem: What is the impact of fragmented property ownership on farm management? It show us that fragmentation in Nova Scotia is intentional, the result of purposeful land acquisition by serious farmers. While it cannot be ascribed to fragmentation alone based on the data we collected, these high fragmentation farmers were less likely to have ponds and wetlands on their properties (as a function of farm area), though they had just as many woodlands, which are seen to have high ecosystem service value (timber, etc). Moreover, high fragmentation farmers were less likely to undertake biodiversity-friendly farming techniques. I think this is enough to suggest more research is warranted. Next time I want to look for diversity within farms. Does the farmer treat far-flung parcels differently than those closer to the heart of his operations?