The Economic Case for Hedgerows

UC research calculates return on investment of increased biodiversity

Yolo County, CA – Research author Rachael Long and grower Justin Rominger walk a hedgerow adjacent to a tomato field. Photo by Will Suckow.

UC Cooperative researchers published a study in the fall of 2017 calculating the economic return on investment for planting hedgerows on farms. Though the initial costs of installing and establishing hedgerows can be substantial, they calculated that it takes as little as seven years for farmers to break even and then gain financial benefits. Grants or cost sharing and technical assistance can further lower the time to reap economic gains.

Hedgerows—or plantings along field edges of diverse plants, typically shrubs or trees—are an integral tool for achieving habitat, conservation, and farm production goals without taking land out of production. Farmers who plant hedgerows enhance pest control, crop pollination, water and air quality, and provide wildlife habitat.

Establishing hedgerows increases on-farm biodiversity while enriching long-term sustainability and economic viability of agricultural operations. They reduce growers’ reliance on crop inputs such as bee hives, insecticides and pesticides.

Researchers compared farms in the Sacramento Valley with well-established hedgerows to conventionally managed field edge cropping systems, which were mowed, disked or sprayed with herbicides to control weeds. Native bees were found in more abundance and diversity in the hedgerows than in conventionally managed field edges. According to the researchers, farmers realize a profit in seven years from hedgerow-supported pollination enhancement. Considering only the reduction in insecticide treatments as compared to costs for hedgerow planting and establishment, monetary profit is realized after 16 years.

From Publication: “Hedgerow restoration studies showed the value of hedgerows in terms of their pest control and pollination benefits in rotational cropping systems (from Morandin et al 2016).”

The researchers call for continued policy support for conservation agriculture programs. Incentives programs cut growers’ upfront costs for conservation practices, speeding up the curve for economic returns and encouraging widespread adoption of the practices. Examples of such programs include California’s Healthy Soils Initiative and the national Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

In addition, according to the researchers, “the creation of hedgerows and other restored habitat areas on California farms remains low.” They attribute low adoption rates in part to farmers’ concerns about effects on crop production and wildlife intrusion, and also to the lack of information and outreach about the benefits to farmers. The researchers state that, in order to encourage adoption of hedgerows and other restoration practices for enhanced farm sustainability, more outreach and technical assistance for farmers are imperative.

Read about CalCAN’s current work to increase technical assistance for farmers in implementing climate-beneficial practices. Helpful resources for farmers on planting hedgerows can be found through the Community Alliance with Family Farmers’ recent edition of “Hedgerows and Farmscaping for California Agriculture” and Wild Farm Alliance’s publication about conservation agriculture practices that support on-farm food safety.

Ecological farming strategies can take time to pay off, but the benefits that accrue can last for years for our climate, environment, public health, and agricultural economies. Read the full study, “Hedgerow benefits align with food production and sustainability goals” here.

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