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The power of biodiversity within farming landscapes

Woman walking in a winter pasture with Hereford cows
Johanna Jahkola

Have you wondered why biodiversity is so important for farming landscapes in the first place? We spoke about this topic with agrologist Johanna Jahkola, who raises Hereford cows at her family farm, as well as works as an advisor and lecturer on animal handling, grazing and beef cow farm management. A few weeks ago, Johanna was a panelist at the sold out Northern Roots regenerative agriculture conference, talking about biodiversity within farming landscapes.

 

Johanna has a front row seat to this topic at her family farm. There are about 16 hectares of natural pastures with a history of continuous grazing, and some of the farm forests have been under conservation for almost eight decades. The farm has been organic for the past 28 years, and chemical pesticides or herbicides have not been used for the past 47 years. So far, researchers at Tampereen Hyönteistutkijain Seura have identified the farm to be a home for 1170 different insect species – and 30 of these species are red-listed for being endangered.


Resilience is crucial in a changing environment

Johanna highlights first the resilience that comes with biodiversity. Harboring biodiversity above ground means having a variety of plants – grasses, shrubs and trees – which provide varying food and cover for grazing and wild animals. The plants come with different types of root systems, some going deep and some spreading out wide. The varying roots and their exudates help create favorable living conditions to rich underground diversity of microbes, fungi, worms and microscopic insects in the soil.

 

Having biodiversity both above and below ground sets us up for being resilient in varying climate conditions. Some plants do well in drier conditions while others fare better during wet seasons. Having varying plant cover, including shrubs and trees, also keeps the soil surface cooler, helping reduce moisture evaporation. Johanna points out that experiencing five consecutive dry summer seasons with grazing animals really showed her how important these factors are and how resilient natural pastures are.


Complexity and interconnectedness are part of nature

Another issue that Johanna highlights is how biodiversity is crucial in upholding the complex webs and interconnections within nature. Nature holds an incredible number of different kinds of life forms. It’s easy for us humans to be ignorant of the importance and role of each species within nature – it’s much simpler for us to see the ease of growing monoculture crops or the nuisance that pests and weeds create for us.

 

However, we might end up paying a high price if we do not allow diversity within farming landscapes or ignore the messages pests and weeds tell us about our farm management. A clear and unfortunate example of this is the decline of pollinator populations, created by, among other things, increased exposure to pesticides and loss of habitats. With about 75% of global food crops dependent on pollinators, we are possibly facing a dire and costly future. Johanna sees farmers as not only growers of crops and animals but also stewards of all the life and biodiversity within farming landscapes.

 

Aesthetic value should not be sidelined

And finally, Johanna also brings up the aesthetic value of biodiversity. Farming landscapes are where farmers spend their days working and also make their home. Wouldn’t we much rather work and live in environments that provide beauty and visual variety for us? We can also find beauty in realising how everything in the landscape – old buildings or even a pile of moss-covered stones – can provide a habitat for some species. Farmers are in a key position to create beautiful landscapes full of life. And studies actually show that natural environments have big positive impacts on our mental, cognitive and physical health.

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