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?
An interesting piece of news was hidden in a CBC article today about a minor oil spill at the Mactaquac Generating Station in New Brunswick. It seems that the Wolastoq Grand Council – engaged over the past few years in a separate and thus far private stakeholder engagement process with NB Power – have officially come out in favour of dam removal. They have also vowed to oppose the Energy East pipeline based on risks to NB waterways. Curiously, it also seems that the options for the Mactaquac’s future have been limited now to the two cheapest options: extend life or remove. The two rebuilding options, with or without power, were not mentioned in today’s article. Perhaps a journalistic slip, but perhaps not.
One of the nice things about sabbatical is a little more time to enjoy my city and its attractions. I visited the new Art Gallery of Nova Scotia exhibition, Terroir, before the cottage week. Though I will need to return for a more fulsome look, this open-call show of Nova Scotia art has a nice range of media and messages, each intended to connect to the local landscape and story. I saw some familiar artists, such as Steve Farmer‘s wonderful detailed photos of rust and abraded paint – what he calls “industrial documentation” – which I had previously seen at Pavia in Herring Cove, and one of John MacNab‘s mathematical machined wood sculptures. I also discovered some new artists, such as Wayne Boucher, whose large abstract Fall (2005) made me feel I was drowning in the work; when I later read that was an explicit aim I felt a little creeped out at its effectiveness. Finally, I enjoyed both pieces by Melanie Colosimo, whose air-mesh-constructed Transmission Tower I (2016) (see photo) is evidence of her artistic move:
…towards a preoccupation with traditionally masculine utilitarian imagery and themes of progress and construction … to explore memory, transitory states… thresholds between a previous state of being and the next phase.
This appealed to me based on some of my new thinking about energy transitions as the recycling of landscape from one use to another, something we probably need to get used to doing.
Yesterday I was invited to participate in a four-person panel discussing “the impact of climate change on sustainable food production; minimizing on-farm climate related risks“, at the Canadian Society for Bioengineering meeting currently being held in Halifax. As a social scientist (certainly the only one on the panel, possibly in the room) I really enjoyed the opportunity to engage with individuals tackling the technical solutions to climate change mitigation (e.g. bioenergy) and adaptation (e.g. water management) about social license and political will. Contributions covered some challenges and solutions, including meeting the increasing unpredictability of agricultural inputs with a resilience approach, re-engineering landscapes for ecosystem function and diversity. I also discussed the importance of understanding farmer perceptions and uptake of new techniques and technologies, increasingly challenging given the dearth of spatial and social science data infrastructure (e.g. farmer databases for surveys, commodity and soils maps) and given the poor state of agricultural extension in this country. Tradition is a powerful thing in agricultural settings, and what it means to be a ‘good farmer’ will take time to shift, for farmers and policy-makers. We have a limited set of policy instruments: information (education), persuasion (moral appeals), assistance (incentives) and regulation, but perhaps the most important of all is to look first – before making new policy – to see if there are any perverse policies in place that discourage useful action. Perverse incentives that encourage the delaying of adaptation, like event-based insurance, serve as buffers that will not prepare farming well for new climate futures.