With a new way of modeling land use, research shows how changes in land use combined with multifunctional production systems can help agriculture deliver more biomass while at the same time reducing environmental problems.
– Agriculture creates many values in addition to food supply today, but can also have a negative impact on the environment, for example by nitrogen from manure leaking into nearby drinking water, says Göran Berndes, expert on land use.
Increased demand for biofuels and bio-based materials increases the pressure on agriculture to produce biomass. Intensified land use can lead to more common negative effects such as erosion, nitrogen leakage, loss of soil carbon and floods.
The problem can be alleviated with the help of multifunctional production systems, which means that perennial crops are grown in a way and place that counteracts the negative environmental effects of intensive agriculture in the landscape. These systems provide society with double benefits: more biomass and reduced environmental problems. They can also secure regulatory ecosystem services, such as pollination and protection against natural disasters such as droughts and floods.
- There are many different ways to reduce the environmental impact and the solutions we have investigated in this project have been the subject of several previous studies, also within our own research group. Such studies are often done on a fairly small scale, but here we have taken a larger approach and investigated how multifunctional cultivation systems could be introduced in Sweden and Europe to reduce the negative effects of current agriculture – and at the same time produce biofuels and other bio-based products, says Göran Berndes, professor at Chalmers (picture t h). He is the project leader in a research study, which includes researchers from Chalmers, Lund University and Mid Sweden University. Together, they have developed a new way of modeling land use systems.
The spatial models are based on high-resolution data and have been applied to 81,000 individual landscapes across the EU and the UK. This way, it is possible to identify individual landscapes where multifunctional systems can be particularly advantageous, while at the same time it is possible to study the effects of implementation at European level.
– Our analyzes show that environmental problems related to nitrogen leakage to surface water and wind erosion can be significantly reduced through a strategic integration of multifunctional farming systems in agricultural landscapes that are currently dominated by annual crops, says Oskar Englund, associate professor at Mid Sweden University and one of the project participants.
The project is part of the programme Renewable transportation fuels and systems, A collaborative research program between the Swedish Energy Agency and f3 The Swedish Knowledge Centre for Renewable Transportation Fuels.