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Steering animal production systems towards sustainable future

AnimalFuture will design strategies for assessing and enhancing the sustainability of animal production systems (APS). While the livestock farming sector certainly generates benefits that exceed the production of food, costs also need to be addressed. AnimalFuture aims at assessing the multi-dimensional (social, ecological, economic) and multi-level (from farm to region to EU-level) consequences of innovations to identify measures that create win-win situations. For this purpose, a decision support system (DSS) will be created. The DSS will estimate effects of innovations on sustainability, identifying tradeoffs and synergies between sustainability indicators, and thereby enable farmers and other decision makers to select practices that are efficient with regard to economy and ecology. A 200-farm network in 8 European regions serves as a basis for on-farm data collection. Additionally, whole farm simulation models are being used to enhance and analyse the trade-offs and synergies of innovative practices. AnimalFuture will ensure that sustainability issues and innovations identified in the course of the project are relevant and feasible in daily practice via constant knowledge exchange with actors of the livestock value chain. The DSS has been designed and is yet to be finalized and enriched using stakeholder engagement via semi-structured interviews and a summer school.

Research findings:

  • Benefits and costs of current livestock systems and innovations that can positively impact the sustainability of the livestock farming systems have been identified and analysed.
  • A farm model library was drawn up from the literature and expertise from the AnimalFuture partners, and those models best suited to assessing the environmental, economic, and social sustainability performance of AnimalFuture farms have been identified.
  • The foundations of the AnimalFuture DSS have been established and it has been designed i) to be multilevel and multi-dimensional indicator based, ii) to interact with model outputs iii) to integrate a list of variables that case study facilitators are collecting from farms and iv) to be released early so that the prototype can be launched amongst project stakeholders and provide preliminary results for design enhancement.
  • A comprehensive, consistent biophysical database of biomass flows of European agriculture has been established in order to assess the biophysical benefit and cost portfolios resulting from innovations in the animal production sector at regional scale (NUTS2).

Experience from one of the AnimalFuture workshops focusing on innovations showed that farmers and advisors have a particular interest in innovations regarding direct marketing, grassland and pasture optimization and hedge valorization for heating wood.  Furthermore, awareness of farmers and other stakeholders has been raised for benefits and costs caused by livestock farming that go beyond pure economy. Every sustainability measure that is implemented somewhere along the livestock value chain comes at a cost. These costs - that have to be paid either in a financial, social or ecological currency - are of growing concern at farm as well as at policy levels.

Messages to:

Actors from private sector (entrepreneurs, traders, investors etc.)

  • Trade-offs between environmental, economic and social benefits and costs need to be acknowledged and all stakeholders are to be involved in addressing these.
  • Civil society and practitioners organisations
    • Livestock farming generates benefits that exceed production food. These positive as well as negative externalities need to be transparent to the general public to improve appreciation and acceptability of livestock farming systems.
    • The agricultural sector is constantly working to improve livestock farming systems with regard to animal welfare and ecology.
    • Research funders and actors are investing to enable innovative and sustainable livestock farming
  • Policy makers
    • If policies are to be developed to make livestock farming systems more sustainable, policy makers need to think both regionally and globally. Agricultural regions are heterogeneous. There is no one-size-fits-all solution and regional specifics need to be considered while displacement effects are to be avoided.
    • The implementation of innovations requires time and economic resources. It is important to have stable legal and regulatory frameworks to enable the implementation of innovative practices. If legal guidelines are changed continuously, investments become a risk for practitioners and innovation uptake is slowed down. Legal and regulatory frameworks need to be adapted to enable innovative practices to be widely adopted.
    • In a workshop, participants highlighted that conflicting political aims such as the reduction of emissions and improved animal welfare (outdoor access are problematic because they cause uncertainty. Both aspects cannot be improved at the same time and there is no political roadmap addressing this conflict. In AnimalFuture tradeoffs and synergies are identified and assessed. However, policy makers need to decide (based on these findings) which sustainability issues to prioritize (in which region) and to define guidelines.
    • While innovations may improve certain sustainability indicators (economic, environmental or social), they come at a cost in other sustainability dimensions. Policy makers need to carefully balance the benefits and costs of innovations when making decisions.

Knowledge products:

  • An article “Making livestock farming sustainable” was published in SciTech Europa Quarterly 26 which is targeted at policy makers and scientists. It is available in the press-section of the AnimalFuture website at
  • AnimalFuture was presented at the policy level at the Animal Task Force Seminar in Brussels in November 2018. The presentation by Monika Zehetmeier of LfL presented a presentation by her and Muriel Tichit of INRA titled: Environmental impacts, roles and services from livestock farming: current situation and avenues for improvement at last year’s Animal Task Force Seminar. 7th November 2018 in Brussels.
  • Project findings were presented to scientists and stakeholders of the livestock value chain at the European Association for Animal Products (EAAP) annual meeting 2018 in Dubrovnik.
  • Our partner from IDELE – Delphine Neumeister – presented results from the project’s stakeholder workshops during last year’s EAAP in Dubrovnik. August 27th. Title: Benefits and costs of livestock systems in ten European case studies. 

Knowledge networks:

AnimalFuture is cooperating to varying degrees with other projects and initiatives dealing with sustainability in the livestock farming sector allowing to join forces and to benefit from synergy effects. In addition to their involvement in AnimalFuture, our Scottish partner SRUC is also involved in the project “Linking Environment and Farming” (LEAF) which aims at supporting the farming industry to adopt more sustainable farming practices and encourage consumers to make more sustainable food choices. The Scottish AnimalFuture case study benefits from this cooperation especially in terms of knowledge exchange due to shared resources such as the SRUC’s Hill & Mountain Research Centre. Similarly, our German partner LfL is involved in a project that economically and ecologically evaluates measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the agricultural sector. Findings from this project feed into the assessment of the ecologic sustainability pillar within the scope of AnimalFuture. Furthermore, AnimalFuture will be hosting a session at this year’s EAAP presenting project outcomes. The project is also organising an event at next year’s Animal Task Force and will therefore work in close cooperation with the institution.  ​

Coordinated by: Dr. Muriel Tichit - Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (FRANCE) - Contact

Funded by: ANR, BMLFUW, BMEL, INIA, DEFRA, FCT and NWO as part of the ERA-NET Cofund SusAn through a virtual common pot model including EU Top-Up funding from the European Union´s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement no 696231).

7 research partners:

  • FRANCE: Institut de l’Elevage
  • AUSTRIA: Universitaet Klagenfurt
  • GERMANY: Bayerische Landesanstalt fur Landwirtschaft
  • SPAIN: Centro de Investigacion y Tecnologia Agroalimentaria de Aragon
  • UNITED KINGDOM: Scotland’s Rural College
  • PORTUGAL: Associação do Instituto Superior Técnico para a Investigação e Desenvolvimento
  • THE NETHERLANDS: Wageningen University

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