Towards mitigation of greenhouse gases by small changes in farming practices: understanding local barriers in Spain

Abstract

Small changes in agricultural practices have a large potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, the implementation of such practices at the local level is often limited by a range of barriers. Understanding the barriers is essential for defining effective measures, the actual mitigation potential of the measures, and the policy needs to ensure implementation. Here we evaluate behavioural, cultural, and policy barriers for implementation of mitigation practices at the local level that imply small changes to farmers. The choice of potential mitigation practices relevant to the case study is based on a literature review of previous empirical studies. Two methods that include the stakeholders’ involvement (experts and farmers) are undertaken for the prioritization of these potential practices: (a) Multi-criteria analysis (MCA) of the choices of an expert panel and (b) Analysis of barriers to implementation based on a survey of farmers. The MCA considers two future climate scenarios – current climate and a drier and warmer climate scenario. Results suggest that all potential selected practices are suitable for mitigation considering multiple criteria in both scenarios. Nevertheless, if all the barriers for implementation had the same influence, the preferred mitigation practices in the case study would be changes in fertilization management and use of cover crops. The identification of barriers for the implementation of the practices is based on the econometric analysis of surveys given to farmers. Results show that farmers’ environmental concerns, financial incentives and access to technical advice are the main factors that define their barriers to implementation. These results may contribute to develop effective mitigation policy to be included in the 2020 review of the European Union Common Agricultural Policy.

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Acknowledgments

We acknowledge funding from the SmartSOIL project (Project number: 289694), EU, 7th Framework Programme, and the collaboration of experts of the REMEDIA network (www.remedia.org) and the collaboration with farmers of the farming cooperative “Virgen de la Corona” and of the association of conservation agriculture of Aragon “Agracon”.

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Correspondence to Ana Iglesias.

Appendix 1: Interview guidelines

Appendix 1: Interview guidelines

Objective of the research

The new policy objectives of European agriculture are to reach a 10 % greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction by 2020 in Spain and all the EU-27 countries (Decision Nº 406/2009/EC). There is a need to increase the adoption by farmers of agricultural practices that meet the new policy objectives of GHG emissions mitigation.

The main goal of this research is to assess and prioritise agronomic and soil management practices that have the potential to mitigate GHG emissions while optimizing crop productivity in the region of Aragón. We aimed to contribute to policy development and to transfer the information to farmers’ advisory services. The research is being completed within the SmartSOIL project (www.smartsoil.eu) of the 7th Framework Programme of the European Union and with the collaboration of the REMEDIA network (www.remedia.org).

The interviews aimed to draw on the expertise and knowledge of academic experts and develop a prioritization of the mitigation practices which are most suitable to the case study region from social, economic and environmental criteria under two climate scenarios (current climate and a drier and warmer climate scenario).

Methodology

A preliminary selection of potential mitigation practices relevant to the Aragón case study was built on a literature review of previous empirical studies. The method for the prioritization and evaluation of the selected mitigation practices is a Multi-criteria Analysis (MCA). The MCA analyses the experts’ priorities given to social, economic and environmental criteria for the implementation of the practices. The data collected from the questionnaires will be input into the software Web-Hipre (http://hipre.aalto.fi/) from the Helsinki University of Technology for multi-criteria evaluation and prioritization.

Filling the tables

We would very much value your input as an expert on the matter. If you would like to participate, please fill the questionnaire using the instructions below. The questionnaire takes about 30 min to be answered and is divided in two parts:

  1. 1.

    Assessment of the criteria: allocation of criteria’s weights in terms of importance for GHG mitigation and desirability for economic, social and environmental farm benefit (tables C1 y C2).

  2. 2.

    Assessment of the six selected mitigation practices: Weight the effect of the mitigation practice adoption against each of the criteria under the two climate scenarios (tables P1, P2, P3, P4, P5 y P6).

  1. 1.

    Assessment of the criteria

    1. C1.

      Please fill the following table and point what is the importance or weight of each criterion to evaluate the mitigation practices suitability (the sum of the weights has to be equal to 100)

      Criteria Weight (%) ∑total = 100
      Economic  
      Social  
      Environmental  
    2. C2.

      Please fill the following table and point what is the importance or weight of each sub criteria to evaluate the mitigation practices suitability

      figurea
      Criteria Sub Criteria Importance weight (0–10)
      Economic CAP subsidies  
      Yield variability  
      Job creation  
      Implementation  
      Economic feasibility  
      Social Rural development  
      Farmer cooperation level  
      Farmer training level  
      Transfer technology  
      Environmental Mitigation potential  
      Soil quality  
      Water quality  
      Ecologic value  
    1. 2.

      Assessment of the six selected mitigation practices

      Please, weight the effect of implementing the mitigation practice on each sub-criteria following the guidelines below.

      Mitigation practices selected to be evaluated:

      1. P1.

        Cover crops in orchard systems

      2. P2.

        Reduced tillage/no-tillage

      3. P3.

        Fertilization with animal manures

      4. P4.

        Optimized fertilization

      5. P5.

        Crop rotation

      6. P6.

        Intercropping

        Evaluation guidelines and example:

        figureb

        The mitigation practices have to be evaluated by weighting their effect for each criterion under two climate scenarios (current climate scenario and climate change scenario).

        The weight scale ranges from −100 to 100, taking into account that−100 represents the worst negative effect of the mitigation practice for the criteria and +100 the best positive effect. The value of 0 is applied when the mitigation practice does not have effect for the criteria.

        The two scenarios are classified as a current climate scenario with similar climate conditions to those at present and a climate change scenario with drier and warmer conditions based on the more likely projection according to CEDEX (2011) for Spain (a decrease in average annual rainfall of 8 % and an average increase in temperature of 2 °C by the 2040s).

        Example to evaluate a measure: “start a timber industry in the Amazon” with the aim of improve the economic situation of the area.

        Criteria Weight (−100 to +100)
        Current climate scenario Escenario con cambio climático
        Job creation 60* 60*
        Ecologic value −70** −90**
        Rural development 0*** 0***

        Reasoning to the weight allocation

        (*) Increases of the number of employment rate, regardless of the scenario

        (**) Ecological value decreases, especially under warmer conditions

        (***) Not significant influence on rural development

    1. P1.

      Mitigation practice of cover crops in orchard systems

      This mitigation measure consists of intercropping spontaneous or human induced cover crops with farmland trees in order to improve soil fertility and water use. It also enhances soil carbon stores thereby increasing the carbon sequestration rate.

      Criteria Weight (−100 to +100)
      Current Climate scenario Climate change scenario
      CAP subsidies   
      Yield variability   
      Job creation   
      Implementation   
      Economic feasibility   
      Rural development   
      Farmer cooperation level   
      Farmer training level   
      Transfer technology   
      Mitigation potential   
      Soil quality   
      Water quality   
      Ecologic value   
        Weight (0 to 100)
      Overall feasibility   
    2. P2.

      Mitigation practice of reduced tillage/no-tillage

      Reducing or avoiding tillage practices, increase soil carbon storage through reducing microbial decomposition, and promoting crop residue incorporation into soil.

      Criteria Weight (−100 to +100)
      Current Climate scenario Climate change scenario
      CAP subsidies   
      Yield variability   
      Job creation   
      Implementation   
      Economic feasibility   
      Rural development   
      Farmer cooperation level   
      Farmer training level   
      Transfer technology   
      Mitigation potential   
      Soil quality   
      Water quality   
      Ecologic value   
        Weight (0 to 100)
      Overall feasibility   
    3. P3.

      Mitigation practice of fertilization with animal manures

      Incorporating animal manures to the soil, increases organic carbon stores and enhances carbon return to the soil, thereby encouraging carbon sequestration.

      Criteria Weight (−100 to +100)
      Current Climate scenario Climate change scenario
      CAP subsidies   
      Yield variability   
      Job creation   
      Implementation   
      Economic feasibility   
      Rural development   
      Farmer cooperation level   
      Farmer training level   
      Transfer technology   
      Mitigation potential   
      Soil quality   
      Water quality   
      Ecologic value   
        Weight (0 to 100)
      Overall feasibility   
    4. P4.

      Mitigation practice of optimized fertilization

      Changes in application rates, fertilizer placement or split applications depending on crop needs increases efficiency thus reducing GHG emissions, especially nitrous oxide.

      Criteria Weight (−100 to +100)
      Current Climate scenario Climate change scenario
      CAP subsidies   
      Yield variability   
      Job creation   
      Implementation   
      Economic feasibility   
      Rural development   
      Farmer cooperation level   
      Farmer training level   
      Transfer technology   
      Mitigation potential   
      Soil quality   
      Water quality   
      Ecologic value   
        Weight (0 to 100)
      Overall feasibility   
    5. P5.

      Mitigation practice of crop rotation

      Using crop rotations in the same plot, increases soil carbon stores and requires reduced fertilizer use, thereby reducing nitrous oxide emissions.

      Criteria Weight (−100 to +100)
      Current Climate scenario Climate change scenario
      CAP subsidies   
      Yield variability   
      Job creation   
      Implementation   
      Economic feasibility   
      Rural development   
      Farmer cooperation level   
      Farmer training level   
      Transfer technology   
      Mitigation potential   
      Soil quality   
      Water quality   
      Ecologic value   
        Weight (0 to 100)
      Overall feasibility   
    6. P6.

      Mitigation practice of intercropping

      Combining two crops during the same growing season improves soil fertility and soil carbon storage due to more efficient nutrient use and reducing fertilizers application rate as well as GHG emissions.

      Criteria Weight (−100 to +100)
      Current Climate scenario Climate change scenario
      CAP subsidies   
      Yield variability   
      Job creation   
      Implementation   
      Economic feasibility   
      Rural development   
      Farmer cooperation level   
      Farmer training level   
      Transfer technology   
      Mitigation potential   
      Soil quality   
      Water quality   
      Ecologic value   
        Weight (0 to 100)
      Overall feasibility   

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Sánchez, B., Álvaro-Fuentes, J., Cunningham, R. et al. Towards mitigation of greenhouse gases by small changes in farming practices: understanding local barriers in Spain. Mitig Adapt Strateg Glob Change 21, 995–1028 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11027-014-9562-7

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Keywords

  • Barriers to adoption
  • Farming practices
  • Mitigation practices
  • Multi-criteria Analysis
  • Surveys