Everyone off the treadmill : mitigating soil greenhouse gases from Dutch agriculture
Abstract: Working to increase the sustainability of agriculture is a complex challenge of balancing food production and economic profitability with environmental and climatic impact. As the second largest exporter of agricultural products worldwide, the Netherlands is a global production hub, a leading example of high yields per hectare. However, with this high productivity comes intensive farming practices, placing a significant risk on the climate through increased emissions of greenhouse gases N2O and CO2 from soil. This problem can be illustrated by the Agricultural Treadmill theory, representing a causal relationship between on-farm economics, farm size, and technology adoption, in turn leading to increasingly intensive farming systems with higher soil emissions. A large focus of current agricultural research and policy is focused on mitigating methane emissions from livestock production; however, similar attention should be extended to direct soil greenhouse gas emissions. To meet global climate change efforts, the Netherlands must reduce its climatic impact, including soil emissions, but the main challenge lies in shifting the adoption towards specific farming practices. As farmers work toward this shift they face social, economic, political, and environmental barriers, which hinder their progress and shrink their motivation. This research aims to identify these challenges and explore the implications. The main research question is: What are the barriers and opportunities for Dutch arable farmers to transition to farming practices which mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural soils? Beginning with a literature review and informant interviews, this is followed by conducting semi-structured interviews with farmers, policy-makers, and boundary organizations. The findings include (1) a lack of awareness by Dutch farmers of their soil greenhouse gas production, (2) six barriers and five opportunities for farmer adoption of mitigation practices, and (3) the placement of these barriers and opportunities into different steps of adoption, with implications for the surrounding political and economic systems. Critical barriers include economic challenges, personal mindset, on-farm complications, and the need to reconcile different stakeholders’ rates of adoption. However, exciting opportunities lie with farmers becoming interested and able to quantify soil health, positively framing farmers in the media, and policies or economic mechanisms to financially compensate farmers. Finally, key leverage points which tackle barriers and enhance opportunities are identified to motivate the adoption of greenhouse gas mitigation practices on Dutch soils. If the Netherlands can transition to a farming system with reduced greenhouse gas emissions from arable soils, the opportunities for the global food system could be significant.
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