Agricultural diversity can contribute to improving agriculture and food systems sustainability! And it may also be a viable option for high-income countries. Our study sheds light on how diversification is used as an agricultural strategy by Tasmanian farmers, and what incentives and barriers exist.

Understanding agricultural diversity in Tasmania

Agricultural diversity, the variety of crops and livestock on farms, is crucial for sustainable food systems, yet it’s often seen only on small, traditional farms. Our research explores this concept in Tasmania, Australia, a region with a rich variety of climates and landscapes that allow diverse farming practices. We delve into how farmers understand and implement diversification strategies, the benefits and challenges they face, and what drives their decisions. Despite the trend towards large, specialized farms driven by the global market, diversification could offer significant benefits. It can enhance biodiversity, increase resilience to environmental and market changes and provide essential ecosystem services like pollination and pest control. Our study also considers the economic and personal factors influencing farmers’ choices, aiming to show how agricultural diversification can be encouraged in regions like Tasmania and beyond, potentially offering a model for sustainable farming practices worldwide.

Case study: what do Tasmanian farmers actually say?

In our study, we explored the agricultural landscape of Tasmania by engaging with 95 local farmers through telephone interviews. Our aim was to delve into the diverse farming practices across the island, focusing particularly on the variety of crops and livestock species each farm produces. This on-farm diversity offers a glimpse into the multifaceted nature of Tasmania’s agricultural systems, ranging from specialized crop or livestock farms to those embracing mixed systems and even branching into agro-tourism or processing activities. Through a meticulously designed questionnaire, we gathered both quantitative and qualitative data, looking at the farmers’ backgrounds, their farming methods, and their views on agricultural diversity. Our findings are not just numbers and statistics; they’re stories of individual farmers, their challenges, aspirations, and the changing dynamics of farming in Tasmania. This study not only enriches our understanding of agricultural diversity but also highlights the personal narratives behind Tasmania’s farming communities. As this small mixed-livestock farmer put it:

“Agricultural diversity means diversity in the soil, living soil, diversity in the plants, in the insects, the birds, you know, the whole ecology, and then diversity in the people as well”

Perceptions and views vary strongly among farmers

By engaging with 95 local farmers, we could explore the diverse attitudes and motivations farmers in Tasmania have towards agricultural diversity. We found that farmers’ backgrounds, personal experiences, and values greatly influence their approach to diversification in farming. While some see diversification as a core part of their business model, addressing various needs and opportunities, others view it as a means to venture into new business areas or as a practice that transcends financial benefits, focusing instead on environmental and social sustainability. Interestingly, a segment of farmers prefers specialization, because considering diversification is too risky or demanding.

Our research reveals that agricultural diversification is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. It is embraced differently across the board, from large-scale mixed crop-livestock systems to small family farms focusing on niche products. The findings suggest that future policies and research should tailor their approaches to meet the unique challenges and perspectives of farmers, promoting diversification strategies that align with their specific circumstances and goals. This study underscores the complexity of agricultural diversity and its potential as a viable farming strategy, even in high-income countries like Australia.

Read the paper: Tacconi, F., Lefroy, D., Waha, K., Ojeda, J.J., Leith, P., Mohammed, C., 2024. Agricultural diversity, farmers’ definitions and uses: the case of Tasmanian Farms. Journal of Rural Studies 108, 103266.