Quantifying land fragmentation in Northern Ireland Cattle Enterprises

Farmland fragmentation is considered to be a defining feature of Northern Ireland’s (NI) agricultural landscape, influencing agricultural efficiency, productivity, and the spread of livestock diseases. Despite this, the full extent of farmland fragmentation in cattle farms in NI is not well understood, and little is known of how farmland fragmentation either influences, or is influenced by, different animal production types. Here, we describe and quantify farmland fragmentation in cattle farms for all of NI, using GIS processing of land parcel data to associate individual parcels with data on the cattle business associated with the land. We found that 35% of farms consisted of five or more fragments, with dairy farms associated with greater levels of farmland fragmentation, fragment dispersal and contact with contiguous neighbours compared to other production types. The elevated levels of farmland fragmentation in dairy production compared to non-dairy, may be associated with the recent expansion of dairy farms by land acquisition, following the abolition of the milk quota system in 2015. The comparatively high levels of farmland fragmentation observed in NI cattle farms may also have important implications for agricultural productivity and epidemiology alike. Whilst highly connected pastures could facilitate the dissemination of disease, highly fragmented land could also hamper productivity via diseconomies of scale, such as preventing the increase of herd sizes or additionally, adding to farm costs by increasing the complexity of herd management.
Publication history: Accepted - 2 March 2022; Published online - 9 March 2022
farmland fragmentation, farm fragmentation, dairy, cattle farming, agricultural productivity, Northern Ireland
Milne, G., Byrne, A.W., Campbell, E., Graham, J., McGrath, J., Kirke, R., McMaster, W., Zimmermann, J. and Adenuga, A.H. (2022) ‘Quantifying Land Fragmentation in Northern Irish Cattle Enterprises’, Land. MDPI AG. doi:10.3390/land11030402.