The Farmers Daughter: As The Seasons Change

NOTE: This is a blog I wrote for an assignment as part of my degree, it was written almost a year ago but shows the way I started putting together this blog.

Welcome to the blog ‘The Farmers Daughter’, my blog is themed from my experiences growing up on a farm and being surrounded by agriculture. I use this to contrast with how I’ve developed into becoming a conservation ecologist at university. This blog is also centred on the theme of nature conservation in the context of a wider audience, looking at how it fits into everyone’s lives.

The Farmers Daughter: As The Seasons Change.

Living on farms I only know too well that as one season changes into another that does not mean any rest in terms of work. Autumn is well upon the farms at home and that meant the end of the summer and the harvest times of this year. My father is starting to do the final count ups of all the feed ready for the winter and working out how long the feed will last. When the piles of hay are mounted up in front of you it’s hard to imagine that this won’t last until the late spring but the beloved animals often have something different to say.

The grass crops always provide a small amount of friction on the farm. My father would much prefer to see a monoculture of perennial rye grass with not a single weed in sight. However I, on the other hand would much prefer to see the diversity when there are fields full of different coloured flowers. That is often the main issue of being a conservation ecologist in a farming household, diversity over practicality but I digress. My father’s argument is that a monoculture of rye grass creates better feed for the animals however that might not be as true as once thought.

Some recent work has shown that the nutritional benefit of animals living on a more diverse mix of feed may be better than that of a monoculture of perennial rye grass. The study compared the monoculture feed to fast food where as a more diverse mix promotes a healthier animal however would possibly not grow as fast (Thomas, 2013).

Although in the question of which is the better in terms of cost, feed for the animals and the biodiversity of the pasture, there is a technique that can be used. Multi-criteria decision analysis or MCDA analysis is used in a number of different fields (Natural Resources Leadership Institute, 2011). In laymen’s terms it is a way of analysing the best choice from a number of options under different variables. The first step in MCDA is to look at the options available so in the example of the fields the options would be as follows (Belton and Stewart, 2002):

  • To do nothing
  • To keep the field as a monoculture of rye grass
  • To re-seed the field with a more diverse mix of seeds

The latter two options would obviously require more work than the first. The next stage would be to look at the variables, so in this example they would be the following (Belton and Stewart, 2002):

  • The cost to create and maintain the option
  • The nutritional value of the hay crop for the animals
  • The biodiversity of the fields
  • The time it would take to create the desired option.

Each of these variables would be important to choosing the correct decision. Then you would look at each of the variables with the options. For example the cost of maintaining a monoculture of rye grass would be higher than doing nothing or using a more diverse mix of seeds however there is also a cost in ploughing up and reseeding the fields if you were to use the more diverse mix. On the other hand the biodiversity of the field with the diverse mix would be considerably higher than that of the monoculture. Then finally using MCDA you can work out the best option. As it considers all the variables and all of the options together (Natural Resources Leadership Institute, 2011).

Although the process in real terms is far more complex the result remains the same. MCDA can be used in a number of different ways and for lots of different questions (Belton and Stewart, 2002). It can be a really useful tool and one that I shall try and encourage my father to use.

References

Belton, V. and Stewart, T. (2002). Multiple Criteria Decision Analysis: An Integrated Approach. London: Springer

Natural Resources Leadership Institute. (2011). Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis. Available: http://www.ncsu.edu/nrli/decision-making/MCDA.php. Last accessed 21/11/2014.

Thomas, H.. (2013). All Hay Is Not Equal: Choose Your Livestock’s Carefully. Available: http://www.hobbyfarms.com/crops-and-gardening/hay-feeding-14792.aspx. Last accessed 21/11/2014.

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