A blind spot in agroecology: economies of scale and ecological complexity

The criticism of industrial agriculture and its consequences for our climate, animal welfare and biodiversity is widely known. Countless scientific analyses explain them through high inputs of nutrients, pesticides and large-scale monocultures. Although this model of causal relationships is factually correct, it is based on a linear understanding in which industrial agriculture is the cause of a number of problems in our agricultural ecosystems. However, such simple cause-and-effect models ignore the much more complex socio-ecological interactions in agriculture.

Above all, such a linear model is in no way helpful in explaining agroecological transformation processes or the resilience of industrial agriculture to transformation. The comparison between “industrial” and “agroecological agriculture” is also understandable from an activist perspective and perhaps also necessary in terms of strategic communication. However, this harbors the danger of simple dichotomies that do not do justice to the complexity of our world in any way and therefore make it difficult to find technically sound and practically relevant solutions.

On the one hand, a more precise socio-ecological model of our agriculture is of a purely academic and knowledge-oriented interest. A central question is how biological diversity and economic efficiency in agriculture are linked. However, this question is also central to the concern of critics of industrial agriculture to reform this system or, as is often postulated, to radically transform it.

For this reason, I would like to try to take a more differentiated approach to the relationship between biodiversity in a production system such as agriculture and aspects of economic efficiency. Since I am not an economist I do stretch beyond my usual expertise, however the attempt to address interdisciplinary problems makes this unavoidable. This article is an translation from an older German version.

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Intercropping in practice: insufficient data and a positive trend in NRW (Germany)?

If you look at the world of science, mixed crops – also called intercrops – are one of the hot topics at the interface between agriculture and ecology. Great hopes are being placed in this cultivation system. The topic of intercrops has also made it into the top scientific journals, e.g. with an exciting study on yield performance in PNAS by a colleague from Wageningen University.

But what is actually going on in agricultural practice? Is any of the hype in the scientific community actually being put into practice? Or is science researching a system that does not meet the economic and technical requirements of agriculture and the value chain? Can intercrops really be established well in our different farms, soils, climates and regional markets?

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