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Visioning future European farming: Heritage protection, sustainable intensification and beyond

Working Group 13: Visioning future European farming: Heritage protection, sustainable intensification and beyond

Camilla Eriksson [1], Maja Farstad [2], Rasmus Blædel Larsen [3]

1: Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Sweden; 2: Centre for Rural Research, Norway; 3: University of Copenhagen, Denmark

The nature of the rural economy is changing. Increasing fears of food shortages, climatic change and the depletion of non-renewable resources suggest a need for rethinking agricultural production. European policy aims to address these issues through sustainable intensification, with the development of a bioeconomy in Europe – a bioeconomy based on technologies and industrial processes that transform biomass as a feedstock into a variety of products.

However, contemporary European farming is full of paradoxes. During the last decades a number of policy changes have met consumers' demand for shifting the role of agriculture towards maintaining natural and cultural heritage rather than producing more agricultural goods. Meanwhile, the deregulation of agricultural markets within the EU has made farmers increasingly subjected to compete on the world market where a low price is the main competitive factor. On a global level issues of food scarcity and land shortage are continuing to be raised as the global population size is expected to reach 9 billion people in 2050. This paradox raise questions of whether the current restructuring of European agricultural land use pose a logical response to global challenges? Another paradox is that farming is imagined as a rural lifestyle with strong social values and cultural traditions and farms resembling that notion are sought-after by consumers. On the other hand the majority of farmers are adopting high-tech precision farming tools and robots to further increase the ongoing rationalisation of agriculture that converts family farms into agribusinesses, based on large investments in land and capital.

In this working group we wish to look at the process of transformation and what it means for farmers and rural communities in Europe and beyond. For example: How do European farmers think about these challenges, what drivers do they act on and what will be the outcome for farmer's livelihoods, farm successions and future landscapes? What are the spatial issues involved? How do we promote environmental sustainability at the same time as promoting intensification of agricultural production?

We will facilitate a discussion on the paradoxical nature of the agricultural realities in Europe; contextualised through the investments and decisions on future land use farmers make as well as through presentation of the empirical examples. Key themes will include but are not limited to: structural development and alternatives, land-acquisition at home and abroad, adoption of new technology, property-relations, the production of natural and cultural heritage at farms, the emerging bioeconomy and sustainability aspects of farming.