Extending from my work on farmer perspectives of farm habitat and wildlife, and ways to encourage biodiversity, is a growing interest in the spatial patterns required to balance ecosystem services and the production they enable. The services important to agricultural production, however, must largely be fostered by farmers at the site where they are needed. The organisms that provide those services thus require their habitat requirements to be locally met. Relationships have been shown to exist between ownership patterns and land cover (thus, habitat) at a landscape scale, but what does this mean for decision-making at the farm level? How does the spatial fragmentation of farmers’ holdings influence how they choose to manage, or ‘design’, that land – specifically, what habitat is locally provided – and what are the potential implications of that habitat for their agricultural production?

A seed grant  from the Dalhousie Research Development Fund for Social Sciences and Humanities enabled some pilot work in Nova Scotia in the spring of 2014 to explore how fragmented ownership patterns – sometimes called ‘parcelization’ – affects ecosystem service provision. The difficulty of identifying individual farms using online property databases made the results inconclusive via spatial analysis, and has inspired an alternative survey-based approach, implemented in the summer of 2015. In that Marginal Land survey we asked farmers about their farm geography, as well as farm habitat, perceptions, use and management, and found preliminary insights in the 350 responses (Sherren, Greenland-Smith, and Goodale, 2016). We found that the more fragmented farms were larger but also more serious farmers, and that they were less likely to have ponds and wetlands than less fragmented, smaller farms, but just as likely to have woodlands, which of course have economic value here in Nova Scotia. Moreover, more fragmented farms were less likely to uptake biodiversity-friendly farming techniques. What this farm-scale analysis hides, thus far, is whether individual farmers manage their far-flung parcels differently than the ones closer by, and why.

Research output

Sherren, K., Greenland-Smith, S. and Goodale, K. 2016. Farm as ecosystem: What is the impact of fragmented property ownership on farm management? 22nd International Symposium on Society and Resource Management (ISSRM), Houghton, MI, June 22-25, 2016.

Research trainees

Jason Parise, MREM 2015, undertook preliminary spatial analysis on farm fragmentation as a research assistant in the Spring of 2014, when we discovered the difficulty of identifying individual farms from property databases.

Simon Greenland-Smith, MES 2014, undertook a statistical analysis contract in early summer 2016 to generate farm-scale fragmentation metrics and relate them to the presence of habitat and farm management.