The role of farmers’ values and knowledge base in the nitrogen cycle

Industrially produced fertilizers have significantly increased the productivity of agriculture, but they also create problems: Over-fertilizing increases the acidification and eutrophication of water systems. The production of fertilizers is very energy-intensive, which contributes to climate change. In is possible to decrease the need for fertilization by using legumes as part of crop rotation. Legumes fix nitrogen directly from the air, releasing reactive nitrogen into the soil. Also, as legumes use nitrogen to create protein, they have a significant role as a climate-smart protein source.

The purpose of this project is to increase understanding of the issues in the everyday life of farmers that influence the circulation of nitrogen. The project focuses on the experiences and values of the farmers as well as on their knowledge sources. The study combines ethnographic and interview approaches to investigate how the knowledge sources, values and experiences of the farmers influence their farming choices in general and the choices related to legumes in particular. Ethnographic research is used to explore, for instance, farmers’ views upon qualities of good soil, issues that influence which crops to cultivate, what high-quality food means and how the relationship between the farm and its environment is constituted, whereas the interviews focus upon the kinds of knowledge and the ways of knowing that the farmers have. The research seeks to find out why the agricultural practices are not always optimal from the perspective of the nitrogen cycle. The results could be applied, for instance, in designing how natural science research should be processed for farmers to find it useful. The academic contributions from this project aim at illuminating the dynamics between ecological and cultural sustainability, as well as issues relating to interaction between scientific and experience-based knowledge.

The project is a ”spin-off” from a multi-disciplinary Ground and Growth team that made it into semifinals in the Helsinki Challenge science competition.

The project is funded by Maj and Tor Nessling Foundation during 2016–2017.



 Further information:


​Maria Höyssä

Finland Futures Research Centre