Farm fragmentation is the occurrence of numerous and often discontinuous land parcels associated with a single farm. Farm 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 farm fragmentation in cattle farms is not well understood, and little is known of how farm fragmentation either influences, or is influenced by, different animal production types. This study describes and quantifies farm fragmentation metrics for cattle enterprises in NI, presented separately for dairy and non-dairy production types. We find that 35% of farms consist of five or more fragments, with larger farms associated with greater levels of farm fragmentation, fragment dispersal and contact with contiguous farms. Moreover, this was particularly evident in dairy farms, which were over twice the size of farms associated with non-dairy production types, with twice as many individual land parcels and twice as many fragments. We hypothesise that the difference in farm fragmentation and farm size between dairy and non-dairy production types is associated with the recent expansion of dairy farms after the abolition of the milk quota system in 2015, which may have driven the expansion of dairy farms via the acquisition of land. The high levels of land fragmentation, fragment dispersal and contiguous contact 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 and parcellised 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.
Farm fragmentation; Land fragmentation; cattle farming; agricultural productivity; Northern Ireland
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