From the Field

Diversified Agriculture is a Win-Win for Both People and the Environment

A new study in Science points to evidence that diversification practices maintain soil health and on-farm biodiversity while also increasing crop yields, food security, and human wellbeing.

April 23, 2024

By Austin Price

Simplified farming systems prioritize high crop yields but increase risk to disease and climate events. Photo courtesy of Claire Kremen

According to the study in Science, diversified farming systems support biodiversity and improve farm resilience to disease and climate, without necessarily compromising crop yields.

It’s often believed that scaling up efforts like cover cropping or hedgerow planting would come at the expense of crop yields, but the data in this study provides evidence that diversification practices don’t necessarily present this trade-off. Rather, diversified farms do not compromise farm production, and instead increase food security through dietary diversity, even as they harbor biodiversity and build up resilience to climate change. According to the study, a farm would be more likely to see these human/nature dual benefits when multiple diversification strategies are used.

Current agricultural policies, particularly the US Farm Bill, are typically locked into the conventional, simplified farming system. Structural factors like high rent, stringent and misguided food safety regulations, corporate consolidation, and other supply chain pressures currently make it difficult to scale the transition to a diversified agricultural system. Studies like this provide the evidence necessary for policies to address some of these structural barriers.

“The future of agriculture faces great challenges: large increases in demand for agricultural commodities must be met while at the same time minimizing agriculture’s negative environmental, health, and social impacts,” write the authors. “Our interdisciplinary analysis spanning a wide array of regions provides convincing evidence that agricultural diversification is a promising win-win strategy for providing social and environmental benefits.”

BFI’s founding Faculty Co-Director Claire Kremen, currently a professor at the University of British Columbia, is a senior author of the study. Other BFI affiliates and collaborators are also listed as coauthors, including Kathryn De Master of the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at UC Berkeley.