Farm Types Over Time (1989–2009)
In this section, we will use the type of farming accounted in national statistics as a generalisation of farming systems. In last section, we have characterised the present farm types and we have determined the types of farming to which they were more closely associated with (Tables 4 and 7). In Centro, we identified three farm types as small ruminant farms (C1, C3 and C4) and one farm type as mixed cropping farm (C2). In Alentejo, three farm types were identified as crop–livestock farms (A1, A2, A3) and one as mixed cropping (A5). For retired forest farms (A4), the concept type of farming was not applicable.
Overall, during the past two decades and in both research areas, farms specialised in livestock activities (e.g. small ruminant farms) have increased their business at the expense of farms with a mixed production pattern (e.g. crop–livestock farms)
In both research areas, small ruminant farms are the most represented among livestock farms. In Centro, they occupy 26% of agricultural area (11,363 ha) and own 78% of total LUs (1,006 LU); whereas in Alentejo, these shares are 30% (90,018 ha) and 39% (11,674 LU), respectively (INE, 2010). Since 1989, this represents more than a sevenfold increase in Centro and twofold in Alentejo in terms of area; whereas in terms of total LUs, it represents more than a twofold increase in both research areas (INE, 1990).
In contrast, crop–livestock farms that occupy 18% of the area in Centro and 15% in Alentejo; registered during the same period, a drop of more than one third in Centro and two thirds in Alentejo. In terms of total LUs, the drop was 88% and 65%, respectively (INE, 1990; INE, 2010).
With regard to grazing, not only the share of pastures increased but also those with a permanent character increased both in small ruminant and crop–livestock farms in the two research areas (Table 8). Overall, this has led to a decrease of stocking rates in both areas. For example in small ruminant farms, stocking rates decreased from 0·9 to 0·3 LU/ha in Centro and from 0·4 to 0·2 LU/ha in Alentejo (Table 8). These trends favour SLM. The increased allocation of arable land to permanent pasture contributes to decreased soil erosion by reducing the number of tillage operations and by providing vegetation cover throughout the year. Decreased stocking favours a more balanced management of pasture area, avoiding overgrazing and soil compaction.
Table 8. Livestock and grazing area characteristics per type of farming – 1989–2009
|Small ruminants/total livestock (%)|| || || || || || |
|Small ruminant farms||100||93||100||100||100||94|
|Grazing area/agricultural area (%)a|| || || || || || |
|Small ruminant farms||75||51||77||60||39||82|
|Permanent pastures/grazing area (%)|| || || || || || |
|Small ruminant farms||33||32||56||86||89||93|
|Stocking rate (LU/ha)|| || || || || || |
|Small ruminant farms||0·9||1·4||0·3||0·4||0·6||0·2|
It is important to notice that, although not shown in the table, the majority of small ruminants owned by crop–livestock farms in Centro are sheep, which to a large extent have substituted goats, particularly in the last decade. This is also a reason for the increase of permanent pasture, because sheep only graze, whereas goats also browse (on shrubs).
In Alentejo, crop–livestock farms have been replacing small ruminants for cattle. The share of small ruminants (almost exclusively sheep) has decreased from 88% in 1989 to 71% in 2009 (Table 8), whereas the share of cattle increased from 12% to 29%. The research of Madeira (2008) on the two livestock systems for meat production in Alentejo area shows that as result of the Agenda 2000 CAP reform, support for cattle increased from €20/ha in 1992 to €136/ha in 2004; whereas for sheep, the increase was far more modest, from €69/ha in 1992 to €72/ha in 2004. Unlike the increase in the share of permanent pasture in the total grazing area and the decrease of stocking rates, the increase of sheep over goats in Centro and the increase in cattle over small ruminants in Alentejo, although to some extent with the use of regional breeds, has a rather detrimental effect on SLM as will be shown further on this paper.
Economics of small ruminant and crop–livestock farms over time (1989–2009)
The assessment of the economics of the two main types of farming over time focused on the analysis of the return to labour and farm net income.
Over the past two decades (1989–2009), small ruminant farms in Centro had in most years a return to labour (even with support) below the national minimum wage (Figure 2). This has been partially sustained by labour with low opportunity cost (e.g. part-time workers and retired persons) and farming rationales other than market orientation. Nevertheless, recently, it seems that return to labour is slightly increasing, mainly as a result of a decrease in variable costs and an increase of farm income. Although the total level of support has remained nearly the same since 1992, the share of rural development payments in total payments has increased, which seems to have had a positive effect on farm net income. Recently, with the exception of 2005, which was a particularly dry year (IM, 2012), farm net income without subsidies shows an increasing trend.
In Alentejo, crop–livestock farms had on average a return to labour (with support) slightly above the national minimum wage, despite the decreasing trend in farm net income (Figure 3). In fact, since 1996, farm net income without subsidies has been negative. Thanks to the direct payments, these farms can continue their activities. Rural development subsidies form a minor share of direct payments for these farms, except between 2000 and 2002 when they benefited from specific agri-environmental measures mainly targeting permanent pastures. Variable costs, which during the whole period seem to have been correlated with the amount of aid, are now apparently stabilising.
Farming Systems and Sustainable Land Management: Rotation and Fallow Practices
We have characterised earlier the different farm types in terms of their present resource endowments and management results. Small ruminants for milk production and mixed herds of sheep and cattle for meat production are the main activities of the specific farm types distinguished, respectively four in Centro and five in Alentejo. In the previous section, we characterised the change over time of these two main types of farming. In the present section, we will try to understand the rotation dynamics of the installation of fodder areas, which is a key issue for the sustainability of farming systems on the basis of livestock production in both environmental and economic terms. The analysis will focus on the farm types identified earlier.
Although the trend over the past 20 years indicates that the overall share of permanent pastures in grazing area is increasing, the different farm types are adopting distinct strategies to cope with the feeding needs of livestock. Table 9 shows the amount of money spent on feed purchases and the value of feed produced on-farm by the different farm types identified in Centro area.
Table 9. Sustainability indicators regarding feed consumption and fodder area per livestock unit – Centro
| ||Part-time small goat farmers (C1; N = 9)||Full-time small sheep farmers (C2; N = 4)||Full-time extensive sheep farmers (C3; N = 2)||Full-time intensive sheep farmers (C4; N = 2)|
|Feed produced on-farma (€1,000 per farm)||1||2||0||54|
|Feed purchased (€1,000 per farm)||2||6||11||104|
|Feed self-sufficiency (% in value)||34||23||2||34|
|Average fallow years||3||3||3||3|
|No. cultivation years (in 9)c||4||5||—||5|
Small goat farms (C1) and intensive sheep farms (C4) have the highest share of feed produced on-farm (34% of feed expenditure), yet they have different strategies regarding feed provision (Table 9). While the first manage to be highly self-sufficient by assigning a large area to each LU (4 ha/LU), the second uses land the most intensively, assigning only 1 ha/LU. With regard to fallow duration, the different intensity in land utilisation seems not to result in shorter fallow periods, as all farm types manage to leave land to fallow 3 years in a row. This is also confirmed by the analysis of satellite images through the estimates of NDVI, which identify a similar number of cultivation years for all farm types within the decade, usually 4–5 years of cultivation (Table 9).
On extensive sheep farms (C3), the value of feed produced on-farm represents the lowest share among Centro farm types, only 2% (Table 10) that matches also with the lowest share of arable land devoted to fodder crops (75%) (Table 2). Small sheep farmers (C2) manage to produce on-farm about 20% of feed requirements, half of them by organic and integrated production methods. These farmers devote the largest share of fodder crops to permanent pastures (13%, Table 2).
Table 10. Sustainability indicators regarding feed consumption and grazing area per livestock unit – Alentejo
| ||Part-time cattle farmers (A1; N = 5)||Sheep farmers (A2; N = 6)||Full-time cattle farmers (A3; N = 3)||Forest retired farmers (A4; N = 2)||Mixed livestock farmers (A5; N = 6)|
|Feed produced on-farma (€1,000 per farm)||24||15||61||—||45|
|Feed purchased (€1,000 per farm)||12||16||162||—||60|
|Feed self-sufficiency (% in value)||67||47||27||—||43|
|Average fallow years||3||4||3||—||4|
|No. cultivation years (in 10)c||4||4||6||—||7|
|No. consecutive fallow years||3||3||3||—||3|
|No. consecutive cultivation years||3||1||3||—||3|
In Alentejo, the identified farm types use the land more intensively than in Centro. In order to provide feed for one LU all farm types use less than 3 ha. Understandably, cattle farmers have the largest area per LU, 2·6 ha/LU on full-time cattle farms (A3) and 1·7 ha/LU on part-time cattle farms (A1) (Table 10). However, with the larger area per LU, full-time cattle farmers (A3) provide the lower value of feed, 27% against 67% on part-time cattle farms (A1). Although one might conclude that full-time cattle farms (A3) are less intensive than part-time cattle farms (A1), it is not the case; because within the last decade (2001–2011), the whole plots showed to have been cultivated for 6 years against only 4 years on part-time farms (Table 10). In the sheep farms (A2), the area devoted to each LU is the lowest among all farm types (1·1 ha/LU). Still, they manage to provide about half the feed expenditure with on-farm production while leaving to fallow the highest share of land (3 ha for each cropped hectare, Table 5). This seems to indicate a higher suitability of sheep to land and climate conditions.
All farm types manage to include 3 years of fallow in their rotations. In fact, the mode of the maximum number of consecutive years of fallow identified within the decade (2001–2011) is 3 years for all farm types. Within the decade, full-time cattle farmers (A3) and mixed livestock farmers (A5) seem to use land more intensively as the total number of cropping years is 6 and 7 years, respectively (Table 10).
Our research on the respective farm types in two areas in Portugal and their economic and environmental sustainability brought to light the narrow margin of their economic viability in terms of return to labour, their strong dependence on public handouts and their trend towards specialisation in detriment of mixed farming systems while preserving extensive features. Porqueddu (2007) shows similar trends in extensive grassland farming systems in southern Europe and Caballero et al. (2007) do so for LFAs in Europe. These authors consider that these systems result from traditional systems that made modifications to overcome the socio-economic and environmental constraints, mostly related to labour and forage deficit. The adopted strategies to overcome such constraints have been to lower labour inputs (Caballero, 2001), to lower forage deficit with on-farm produced resources (Porqueddu, 2007) and to acquire subsidies (Caballero et al., 2007).
Traditional grassland farming systems have been changing through the replacement of grazing by hay cutting (MacDonald et al., 2000; Caballero, 2001) and fencing (Caballero et al., 2007; Moreira & Coelho, 2010). This translates into changing grazing patterns with localised concentration of livestock around farmsteads and intensification of forage production on better quality plots, whereas others are being abandoned (MacDonald et al., 2000). Our results are not conclusive with regard to grazing patterns, but through the assessment of the number of cultivation years within the decade 2001–2011, we were able to identify localised intensification at the farm level at least for two farm types in Alentejo: full-time cattle farmers (A3) and mixed livestock farmers (A5). Although the sequence of images was not complete for Centro, the results seem to indicate that there is no localised intensification.
The distortion effect of livestock payments in extensive grassland farming systems has been widely reported (Beaufoy et al., 1994; Caballero et al., 2007; Madeira, 2008). Our results illustrate that situation quite well. On the one hand, small goat and sheep farmers (C1, A2) represent the most traditional systems that make good use of poor pasture resources, which are common on idle land in Centro and on heavily degraded soils in Alentejo. On the other hand of the intensification «spectrum» are intensive sheep farmers and full-time cattle farmers (C4, A3) who rely mainly on purchased feed. These farm types depend mainly on first pillar CAP payments and on the strategy followed by farmers for maximising these subsidies. Somewhere in between are the other farm types either adjusting feed production with more ley (C3, A1), feed requirements with less cattle (A5) or investing in supplementary activities (e.g. quality olive oil) with the support of rural development payments (C2). We have shown that these strategies have not the same value in terms of SLM.
In Centro, it seems important to maintain grazing practices of poor pasture resources for vegetation control in order to avoid wildfires; the replacement of goats for sheep and the increased focus on specialised livestock farming seems to contradict that expectation.
Extensive grazing, particularly with goats, contributes to a well-managed forest-pasture mosaic in depopulated mountainous areas where shrub encroachment is the trigger of recurrent fire events (e.g. Álvarez-Martínez et al., 2013). Álvarez-Martínez et al. (2013) found that in Spanish Cantabrian Mountains, most benefits were perceived from extensive grazing in combination with other practices (e.g. trimming and prescribed fires). Other solutions have been tried out for the immediate intervention after fire occurrence such as the application of hydromulching – a mixture of seeds, wood fibbers, a surfactant, nutrients, a natural biostimulant and a green colourant (Prats et al., 2013). In Centro, although the intervention proved effective at the plot level, it is expensive and not yet completely established for large areas (Prats et al., 2013). Such interventions might be justified for the control of flood risk that can be an issue for pine and eucalypt forests after fire when the already existing soil water repellency seems to increase (e.g. Stoof et al., 2011; Santos et al., 2013). Therefore, providing subsidies for the maintenance of extensive grazing farms can be cost-effective for safeguarding landscape production and regulation services at stake.
In Alentejo, although the maintenance of permanent pasture is positive to protect the already degraded soils, its association with high feed requirements such as those of cattle farms might cause an over-intensification on other plots of the farm if the feed value of these pastures is not properly targeted.
For crop–livestock farms in Nigeria, Thapa & Yila (2012) also showed that farmers tended to choose management practices that they perceived as bringing the highest return to labour. Although it could be desirable to have more livestock in order to have a larger pool of manure to integrate into the soils, the lack of labour might be a constraint to do so. An alternative intensification path is needed for these traditional systems that are still operating.
The need to redirect subsidies to the support of sensible management alternatives that might render these systems more sustainable in the future is also a recurrent recommendation (Beaufoy et al., 1994; Caballero et al., 2007). A good example is the improvement of self-sown legume-based pastures, which constitutes a long-term lowering cost strategy (Porqueddu, 2007) and an opportunity for the rehabilitation of degraded land (Porqueddu et al., 2013). This recommendation could be of use for farm types where pasture efficiency was not at its best, for example, in the case of extensive sheep farmers in Centro (C3) and full-time cattle farmers in Alentejo (A3). At the EU level, a number of agri-environmental measures were designed to support beneficial traditional practices (e.g. the upkeep of permanent pastures), which have been abandoned over the years in the course of intensification biassed policies (Barbayiannis et al., 2011; Calatrava et al., 2011; Prager et al., 2011; Prosperi et al., 2011). Although the design of these incentive-based measures potentially delivers the desired benefits, a better target at the farm level management needs to be put into practice in order to deliver the intended benefits (Louwagie et al., 2011; Posthumus et al., 2011). A measure for the improvement of permanent pastures would have a high initial cost and would have to be well articulated with livestock payments and cross-compliance measures. This recommendation stems also from the research of Kutter et al. (2011) on the EU-27 policy measures with a soil conservation focus.