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Integrating horticultural and arable land use options into hill country farming systems: The multi-criteria decision-making process

August 2021

The ‘Integrating Horticultural and Arable Land Use Options into Hill Country Farm Systems’ research project aims to develop a process and tools for crop identification and assessment to help farmers select crops to integrate into hill country farms. This report addresses the second of the three project phases: crop assessment using an objective process with a multi-criteria decision-making (MCDM) support tool to help farmers identify preferred crop(s) taking goals (criteria) and crop performance into consideration.

The researchers worked with a group of Taihape sheep and beef farmers interested in alternative enterprises who they had had previous discussions with. Prior to the MCDM workshop, a questionnaire was sent to a few local farmers interested in alternative crops to identify crop selection criteria likely to be important.

Attributes considered of moderate or greater importance related to: value chain success (returns, marketability, processing required, risk), crop production (time, labour, support and information, risk), enterprise fit (fit with current business, lifestyle and crop rotation),
and environmental and biodiversity impacts.

Eight farmers from five farming businesses attended MCDM workshops. The farm businesses selected between five to eleven crops each, including crops from two to four crop types (fruit and nuts, grains, medicinal, vegetables). Crops of greatest interest were those suited to small-scale horticulture or cropping for farms with limited flats with interest in enterprises which can provide high returns from a small area to complement sheep and beef farming.

Workshop participants showed greatest interest in medicinal crops and fruit trees, fruit bushes and nut trees. This could be expected since these crop types are more likely to be grown on a small-scale compared to vegetable and grain crops, and generally had higher returns than grain or vegetable crops. The only vegetables selected for evaluation were garlic and horseradish, and the only arable crops were quinoa and hemp.

Each business selected between five and eight criteria for the analysis. All respondents identified labour as being important, and at least four of the five identified returns and market.

Most people found the MCDM process relatively easy and rated this positively. Feedback responses from the workshop fit into three categories: crop varieties; the MCDM process; and the information required for the process. The workshop raised awareness of the range and variety of crops suited to the area, with those from most businesses commenting on this as something that was new to them and/or that they had learned from.

The novelty of many of the crops, and their lack of production in New Zealand or even developed countries, meant that the information provided was often limited and non-specific, as was the participants’ knowledge of these more unusual crops. Hence, most of the workshop participants commented on the difficulty in assessing the crops because of their limited knowledge and the lack of information e.g. on returns, production, harvest, markets. And as one participant commented,’accuracy of [MCDM] results relies on accurate crop knowledge beforehand’. Having access to information prior to the workshop would also have been helpful.

Report for the Our Land and Water Rural Professional Fund

17096 KB | Adobe Acrobat PDF File

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