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How to pursue sustainable farming

Meadowland and pasture are sometimes referred to the tropical rainforests of the Nordic region, as they contain such a great abundance of species. Researchers see a decline in biodiversity on farms where livestock receive concentrates instead of free-range grazing. Regina Lindborg carries out research into ways in which farming that preserves biodiversity can be pursued.

“Letting livestock graze just the right amount in an enclosed area of pasture results in the greatest diversity of plant species, but it requires livestock numbers not to be too high. If there is too much livestock on a small area of land, the landscape is put under too much strain for biodiversity to be preserved. Having too few grazing animals is also detrimental to biodiversity as the land becomes overgrown,” explains Regina Lindborg, which is professor of geography at the Department of Physical Geography, Stockholm University.  

Regina Lindborg porträttbild
Regina Lindborg. Photo: private.

She says that we need to become better at making sure that farming the land sustainably works. This may, for example, mean moving towards more small-scale farming with fewer livestock and free-range grazing, the type of pasture that is grazed at low intensity over a long period of time without commercial fertilisers. 

“But it will reduce yield, and not all farmers can afford that. There are EU grants to preserve meadowland and pasture. There would need to be more such grants, for example to undertake agriculture in which natural pasture forms a natural part. Sweden receives money from the EU for agricultural grants that we are partly able to distribute according to our needs, so we ought to be able to make a greater commitment to those who have natural pasture, for example,” says Lindborg.


It needs to be made easier to buy grass-fed meat

At the same time, there is a need to help farmers find ways to market-based profitability without constantly scaling up and making farms ever bigger. 

“I feel it is important to help medium-sized farms in particular to adopt ecocyclic thinking in which natural pasture forms part of the whole picture. It also needs to be made easier for consumers to buy grass-fed meat and locally produced meat. Farmers ought to be allowed to slaughter their livestock at home on the farm and then to sell to local shops. The way it is today, most of them, for hygiene reasons, have to send their livestock away to abattoirs to be slaughtered and then have the meat sent back to them.” 


Everything is interconnected in food chains

No less than 22 percent of all species we know of are classified as ‘endangered’ or ‘decreasing’ in Sweden today. This is problematic as everything is interconnected in food chains, Lindborg explains. If a part of the chain is removed, much else in the ecosystem can be impacted.

“A classic example is from China, where the birds that were eating the seeds the farmers sowed were deterred, but then they had an insect invasion instead as the birds also ate some of the insect pests that destroyed the crops.” 

Biodiversity is also an insurance against the way climate change is impacting our environment. 

“We do not know which species will cope with climate change. So it is important, for example, to have several species of bumble-bees that can pollinate our crops. There is also an ethical aspect, the fact that it is our responsibility to preserve biodiversity for future generations.”


What is required for diversity to be preserved?

Researchers usually follow the guideline that at least 20 percent of the agricultural landscape must be natural or semi-natural environments for diversity to be preserved. Natural or semi-natural land means, for example, natural pasture or small environments in the landscape such as road verges, wooded knolls in the middle of fields or forest edges, which also often harbour great biodiversity.  

If a diversity of plants is to be able to survive in the agricultural landscape, there need to be various types of environments the plants can spread between and the landscape needs to be not too monotonous, that is to say consisting solely of large fields or forest plantations. 

If the various environments are too small in size or are too far apart, there is a risk of species becoming locally extinct, even if the environments are well looked after. It is therefore important that the compensation paid to farmers is based on a landscape perspective.”

Four things you can do to benefit sustainable farming and biodiversity

  • Reduce your meat consumption.
  • Buy grass-fed meat.
  • Buy from local farmers.
  • Stop eating meat from Brazil.
Regina Lindborg står bredvid en ko.
Regina Lindborg. Photo: private.