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Biodiversity as a crop

I recently published an extensive write-up with pictures of some hedge laying that I did with the intention of boosting biodiversity on our property. It occurs to me that the “biodiversity farming” aspect of the whole thing deserves closer attention, so I wanted to drill down on that in subsequent posts.

Biodiversity refers to the number and variety of species living within an environment or region. There are a few of perhaps more precise and more complex terms that come into play here — such as species richness, species diversity, something called species evenness that I don’t quite understand, etc. etc. Suffice it to say there are a variety of ways to measure biodiversity, which I’ll explore in another installment. This is just to get us started, after all…

Crops, meanwhile, revolve around agricultural production. Wikipedia calls a crop “a plant that can be grown and harvested extensively for profit or subsistence.” The Free Dictionary calls it “cultivated plants or agricultural produce, such as grain, vegetables, or fruit, considered as a group,” adding that it is also the “total yield of such produce in a particular season or place.” Merriam-Webster goes one step beyond those to include animals and animal products (though I think a “crop of cattle” sounds wrong, personally).

The etymology of crop seems related to cutting tops off plants (via Old English) — anything that isn’t the root.

General sense of “anything gathered when ready or in season” is from 1570s.

I kind of like that last definition the most in some ways, because it is the most clear, and most multi-purpose: “anything gathered when ready or in season.”

Conventional agricultural thinking seems to consider a crop a type of harvest of the fruits of a production — sometimes literal fruits. Then there is a secondary factor that seems to be part of our regular understanding of the word “crop” in which that produce is either sold (in order to live off) or just eaten directly (as in subsistence). So there’s a usually literal harvest and then an economic outcome of enrichment.

Applying that back to biodiversity, we’re less accustomed to thinking of it as a crop, but I maintain that it could be. With some imagination, that is. I especially like trying to connect it to “anything gathered when ready or in season,” though we would have to think about what the “gathering” here would entail. If our objective was biodiversity, it might not always be appropriate for us to take a literal harvest, if we want to not reduce vitality or population. Though in some cases — as proven by gardeners, foragers, hunters, trappers, etc. — taking physical harvests of the produce of biodiverse life forms may help increase vitality and population. Depends on the life form, and the situation.

Putting aside those questions of appropriate and timely physical harvests, what if we could say that the “gathering” we are doing when we grow biodiversity as a crop would be of scientific and observational data? That, of course, will require us to drill down deeper into understanding how can we measure biodiversity.

Secondarily, how might that enrich us economically? Certainly, participating in a biodiverse environment might enrich our well-being and connectedness to other forms of life. But that’s not the same as eating. We can’t eat data. Physical harvests of produce though (and transformation of products), that could be one way to survive — living off the land, so to speak. Biodiversity credits or offsets might be another.

There are a handful of emerging governmental and non-governmental initiatives to incentivize farmers to engage in biodiversity enhancing practices. I’ll rabbit hole on individual programs later on, but this “carbon + biodiversity” initiative from the Australian Government is a decent anchor reference point for now:

“The Carbon + Biodiversity Pilot (C+B Pilot) trials market arrangements for farmers to create new income from plantings that deliver biodiversity improvements and carbon abatement. Through the C+B Pilot, we are testing the concept of buying and selling biodiversity services from farmers.”

This one combines carbon capture with biodiversity as a sort of byproduct, and is just one way to potentially configure the economic enrichment side of “biodiversity as a crop.” It all sounds like a lot of paperwork, with tons of restrictive eligibility requirements, and itself requiring a third party to grant the credits, and broker their trade. It’s a far cry from simply cutting the tops off plants, and eating or selling them. But what I’m thinking is… why can’t we do some of both? All while enriching natural ecosystems, and making landscapes more resilient in the face of climate change — and perhaps even mitigating some of its extreme effects regionally or locally.

To be continued…




Humans as natural dispersion mechanism


  1. Tim B.

    Some conversation unfolded around early thoughts on this topic here:

    Not everyone is in favor of this idea for various reasons

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