ANIMALFUTURE - Steering animal production systems towards sustainable future

Aim of the project:

AnimalFuture will design strategies for assessing and enhancing the sustainability of livestock farming systems.

Introduction

While the livestock farming sector certainly generates benefits that exceed the production of food, costs also need to be addressed.Improving the sustainability of livestock farming, however, is a challenging task. AnimalFuture strives to improve the sustainability of livestock farming systems by assessing the multi-dimensional (social, ecological, economic) and multi-level (from farm to region to EU-level) effects of innovations. The project aims to identify innovations that will minimise trade-offs between different sustainability aspects such as economic, ecologic or social ones, while maximising synergies and avoiding translocation effects. A 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. Results will be visualised via an online dashboard where sustainability performances of livestock farming systems, as well as effects of sustainability measures on various sustainability aspects can be explored. 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.

What: This project will move farm management closer to the efficiency frontier through innovations, while considering social and environmental trade-offs. Insight will be gained into how livestock farming systems can increase efficiency of feed utilization, recycle waste and exploit potentials to convert biomass resources not directly edible for humans into high-quality protein sources. A comprehensive analysis of services provided by livestock farming, will raise awareness of animal sector actors, citizens and policy makers about the often-neglected benefits that animal systems provide to society.

Why: Current decision-making regarding sustainable development of livestock farming systems is hindered by a lack of evidence-based knowledge about the multi-dimensional consequences of innovations

Where: The research is been done in eight academic centres located in France, Austria, Germany, Spain, Portugal, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

Main project activities:

AnimalFuture is composed of five workpackages (WP). WP 1 investigates the strengths and weaknesses of the case study regions and possible solutions to sustainability issues using a multi-actor approach. WP 2 examines farm data collected from the AnimalFuture farm-network in the case study regions to assess the sustainability performance of livestock farming systems. In WP 3 sustainability measures are modelled for the different livestock farming systems to assess effects on various sustainability indicators. WP 4 evaluates regional to EU-level effects of innovations while WP 5 assures stakeholder engagement on all project steps and manages knowledge transfer once results are finalised. An indicator-based  dashboard will be developed based on the findings of the different WPs. The dashboard is an online tool which visualises project results of the different case studies. It will display portfolios of benefits and costs of livestock farming systems and can be used to explore the multi-dimensional effects of innovations. The capacity of European animal sectors to facilitate sound changes will be improved by gaining a thorough understanding of the tradeoffs between benefits and costs. Guidance will be provided by scientists and animal production actors, through which the latter can reinforce their innovation capacity.

 

Research findings:

The examination of the case studies showed that while the different regions were largely struggling with quite specific sustainability issues (i.e. droughts in Spain and Portugal, unaffordable prices for land in Germany), some aspects appeared across the case studies. Succession and economic viability of the farm was an issue that was raised in all case studies, as well as issues related to public acceptance of livestock farming, animal welfare and a lack of governmental support. Results of the analysis of the case study regions showed that many sustainability issues are case specific and need to be addressed regionally, while others – especially with regard to governmental support – need to be tackled on the European level. Results from the modelling of the sustainability effects of innovations showed that there is no one fits all solution. Innovations will always have an effect on more than just one sustainability pillar (economy, ecology and social aspects) while desired effects occur, there will also be some undesirable side-effects in other pillars.Trade-offs occur especially with regard to ecosystem services and economic aspects.

However, whenever innovations allow resources/inputs to be used more efficiently (i.e. saving fertiliser by using precision farming), this will have a positive effect on both economy and ecology. Key to avoiding poor decision-making is the assessment of multiple sustainability indicators to find optimal solutions. This is also supported by results from the modelling of the German dual purpose cow case study. Generally, it would be expected that increasing the milk yield will improve the carbon footprint as there is more output per kg CO2-equivalent. But in order to increase the milk yield concentrates are needed. This means that cows enter food competition with human nutrition. If the indicator “competition with direct human nutrition” is included in the assessment, it shows that if dual purpose cows are on a grass based diet and produce meat along with milk, greenhouse gas emissions are comparable to those of high yielding dairy cows. In this scenario only grassland that is otherwise lost for human consumption is used to feed the cows. This example underlines the importance of finding suitable indicators to comprehensively assess sustainability of livestock farming systems. One of the major results of AnimalFuture was the identification of indicators that allowed comparing the very different case study regions and livestock farming systems with regard to their sustainability performance. A dashboard is currently being finalised where results of the different workpackages are visualised and sustainability performances of the different livestock farming systems can be explored. 

 

Project consortium:

Coordinated by: Dr. Francesco Accatino, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (FRANCE)

  • FRANCE: Institut de l’Elevage
  • AUSTRIA: Universität für Bodenkultur Wien
  • 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 and Research