Development of Agent-based Models of Farm and Rural Structural Change

Researchers: R.A. Schoney, University of Saskatchewan; James Nolan, University of Saskatchewan; Scott Bell, University of Saskatchewan

Research Summary

We are developing insight into two of the most important issues in modern agriculture. These are: 1) control of farmland and 2) where farmers choose to live. While some increases in farm size have been realized via land purchases, we surmise that increasingly expansion will be accomplished through leasing. As farm populations diminish and retired farmers need to free up more of their investment for acquisition of homes/housing, less farm land will be owned by the individuals working the land. The efficiency and viability of the farm land leasing market will become a growing concern, critical to the long run sustainability of agriculture.

The second major problem facing agriculture is the housing of farm operators. The nature of farm households has become more complicated, with higher proportions of the family working off the farm, blended families and in some cases, responsibility for aging parents. The issue is further compounded in Canada by a collapsing small community structure. The difficulty and costs of providing basic education and health services, combined with the proclivity of larger farmers to purchase inputs from greater distances means that many local communities and services are doomed to fail.

Our objective in this research is to build further understanding about these issues using farm level agent based simulation models. Research shows that these simulation models can help us understand the relationships, linkages and system complexities inherent in the farm production / rural environment / milieu system. More specifically, in this research we will construct the next generation of farm agent models which can dynamically assess both growth in farm size and its corresponding impact on the local economies, and the accompanying changes in farm family demand for housing.

Significance of Research

The diversity of individual farm agents generates numerous emergent farm level decisions that govern the way the production system behaves on aggregate. We believe that a complete study of the impact of individual farm variation on the whole farming landscape cannot be accomplished via previous methods using simple aggregation of a few representative farm types. Ultimately, we believe that the poorly understood complexities inherent in farming have had and will continue to have a profound impact on rural economies through influences on regional markets – including future demand for rural infrastructure. These complexities can only be captured by extending the development of agent-based farm-level simulation models.

Summary of Research Results: Yet to come.