Sowing flowers in arable field margins contributes to sustainable agriculture. It enhances biodiversity, and farmers need to use fewer pesticides on their crops. There are also major benefits to society, such as cleaner surface water and a more inviting landscape for recreational activities and exercising. However, creating and maintaining arable field margins costs farmers money. It also reduces their harvest. These are the findings of an RIVM study into arable field margins in the Hoeksche Waard. RIVM recommends ensuring a more equal distribution of the costs and benefits of arable field margins.
The benefits of arable field margins for society as a whole
Arable field margins are fertile ground for flowers and plants. These attract insects and birds, thereby increasing biodiversity. In addition, arable fields with margins also capture more CO2 in the soil than regular arable fields. Arable field margins also provide a boost to natural pest control. As a result, farmers need to use fewer pesticides, which saves money.
This benefits society as well. Moreover, the quality of the water around arable fields improves. Arable field margins therefore contribute to the achievement of the targets in the Water Framework Directive, and authorities need to spend less money on keeping water clean. The harmful effects of pesticides on human health remain subject to investigation. Consequently, this study did not take these effects into account.
Finally, agricultural areas become more inviting areas for recreational activities, attracting more hikers and cyclists. This will improve health and improve well-being.
Distributing costs and benefits more equally
RIVM performed a social cost-benefit analysis (SCBA) in the Hoeksche Waard. Such an analysis looks at the costs and benefits of arable field margins over a 30-year period (2025–2055). The analysis showed that the benefits of arable field margins outweigh the costs in even the most cautious scenarios. However, it also revealed marked differences between the costs and benefits for each stakeholder. In the current situation, the costs are mainly borne by farmers and administrative bodies that share in those costs.
RIVM therefore recommends a review of the way the costs and benefits are distributed. Having farmers share in the benefits to society may enhance the appeal of creating arable field margins. On top of that, arable field margins contribute to sustainable agriculture.