Open spatial data on agricultural parcels help to develop regional circular economy activities

Circular economy is increasingly important also in agriculture and in strengthening the environmental and economic sustainability of agricultural production. Circular economy aims to close the cycle of materials and products so that, for example, by-products of production remain in the economy for as long as possible. Open spatial data sets describing agricultural parcels offer opportunities for the exploitation of agricultural by-products and side streams.
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Regional accessibility of side streams was addressed locally in the Ii region in the project "Growth from the circulation with green techniques" (KASKI). At the same time, the need for further improvements in data accuracy was identified.

Efficiency in the use of agricultural side streams

During the KASKI project, the development of the Sääskenharju circular economy centre in and around the municipality of Ii has been initiated. The aim of the operations in Sääskenharju is to use material flows as raw materials based on circular economy principles. The need and potential of circular economy is constantly increasing, for example, due to the reduction of carbon emissions, the recycling of nutrients and the impact of the green transition on material flows and energy sources.

Circular economy is also part of agriculture. At the same time, agricultural systems do not only produce food, but can also be linked to the production of other materials and energy. More efficient use of agricultural side streams is linked to this. For example, biogas production based on residual biomass integrated into agriculture is currently a hot topic of discussion and investments in Finland. The role of agriculture is thus expected to become more prominent in society's sustainability solutions – based on circular economy.

Accessible side streams – in sufficient quantities and at sufficiently short transport distances

In the KASKI project the suitability of spatial data sets of agricultural parcels were tested for examining the accessibility of side streams. Based on the EU INSPIRE Directive, these parcel datasets managed by the Finnish Food Agency have been published as open access data starting from the annual data of 2020. The INSPIRE Directive aims at a coherent, Europe-wide open spatial data infrastructure to support planning and decision making, among other things.

Spatial data consists of location and attribute data. Amongst other things, parcel data includes attributes on the area and the crop cultivated on the parcel. These attributes can be used either to determine the exact amount of residual by-products or to estimate the amount based on the production area or quantity. Spatial data can therefore be used to examine the spatial distribution of side streams.

By linking the parcel-based side stream data to a spatial data model of the transport network, it is possible to analyse the accessibility of materials on a road network basis at a precise scale. It is therefore possible to determine whether the quantities of agricultural and rural side streams needed for circular economy use can be found within sufficiently short transport distances.

In the KASKI project cereal straw, potato primary production side streams, agricultural plastic and green biomass from agri-environmental sectors were selected for analysis. The area-based estimates of side-stream volumes are based on research literature and previous studies carried out in Finland.

More accurate statistics are needed to estimate the amount of under-utilised side streams

Based on the analyses in KASKI project, open access field parcel data are well suited for a precise scale of area-based analysis and for generating indicators on the formation of agricultural side stream quantities. However, the project shows that the indicators of side-stream volumes need to be specified more closely – for example, by refining the coefficients on the basis of farm or regional statistics.

Methodologically, however, modelling based on spatial data sets provides a useful tool for analysis to support circular economy. The KASKI project also aimed to develop a circular economy environment from which the operating model can be replicated in different parts of Finland. The spatial data set of field parcels is a comprehensive data set covering the whole of Finland and thus provides a basis for examining side streams at different sites and regional scales. In addition, the analyses can be replicated in those countries where open parcel data are available under the INSPIRE Directive (such as France, the Netherlands, Spain, and Estonia). For these regions there is also a very accurate, openly available Open Street Map spatial data model of the road network, which can be used to carry out the accessibility calculations. In the future, it will also be possible to estimate the spatial volumes and accessibility of side streams through similar analyses of other agricultural land uses and plants not covered by this project.

The KASKI project was implemented from 1.6.2021–31.10.2023 by Iin Micropolis Oy, Iilaakso Oy, the Regional Excellence Research Group in the University of Oulu, Kerttu Saalasti Institute and the Chemical Process Engineering Research Unit at the University of Oulu. Funding is provided by the Regional Council of North Ostrobothnia and the European Regional Development Fund, as part of the European Union's response to the covid-19 pandemic. The side-stream analyses have been carried out by the Regional Excellence Research Group.

Ollila, K. & Kotavaara, O. (2023). Open access field parcel data open up new opportunities for the use of rural side streams – Sub-report of the project Growth from the circulation with green techniques (KASKI). Publication of Kerttu Saalasti Institute of the University of Oulu 3/2023. ISSN 2814-4406. (In Finnish)

More information on the website of the Finnish Food Authority

Photo: Frans Leivo / Unsplash

Last updated: 16.11.2023