A mixed approach to land use, comprising low input farming systems, areas of open mountain and moorland, and relatively intensive farming on the most productive land – whilst continuing to research for new ways of reducing inputs of energy and agrochemicals. In the future, systems should be better adapted to local conditions and take better account of hidden environmental costs, whilst still allowing farmers to make an adequate living.
Low-input farming systems – high in biodiversity – are often characterized by: a) cropping activities alongside livestock production, increasing small-scale biodiversity; b) their setting, amongst natural features, such as mountains, semi-deserts and coasts; c) their scale, usually covering extensive areas; and d) their central reliance on livestock, whose grazing activities maintain a diverse and spatially and temporally dynamic mix of grasses, herbs and shrubs, critically influenced by stocking density.
From a historical perspective, agriculture has developed as an environmentally-sustainable land use. From around 5000 BC until this century – almost 7,000 years – farming systems and livestock breeds developed within local environmental conditions. These systems supported rich wildlife populations and some 300 generations of people. These were generally low input systems, in terms of low levels of input and energy-use per hectare, but whilst outputs per hectare were also generally low, many of the systems were highly efficient in their use of energy and other inputs.
Traditional farming may be considered low intensity in terms of chemical inputs and productivity but it is often high intensity in terms of human labour. For these systems to survive the farmers and their families have to want to continue to live and farm in what are often difficult conditions.
The vision that includes nature as an essential component of the countryside is one in which the greater proportion of the land surface will comprise a diversity of low-intensity farm systems together with large tracts of unenclosed land sustaining extensive pastoralism. This is not a vision which denies intensive production, but this may become confined to regions of naturally high productivity, in which increasingly tight management of pesticides and fertilisers is combined with technological research and development into management methods which will limit their necessity.
Europe needs a strategy for low intensity farming systems, including measures to prevent damaging intensification or afforestation, as well as a more extensive research programme on the long-term development of agricultural practices.