MilKey - Decision support system for sustainable and GHG optimised milk production in key European areas

Aim of the project:

To develop a whole system concept for 3P sustainability of DPS targeted to key European regions.

Introduction

European dairy production systems (DPS) face many challenges across the three pillars (3P) of sustainability. European regions are highly diverse and complex, and region-specific concepts for DPS are required. The MilKey project develops a whole system concept for 3P sustainability of DPS targeted to key European regions. GHG mitigation is a core aim accompanied by other environmental impacts, and analysis of economic and social factors. MilKey applies a multi-actor approach throughout the whole project.

Finally, a platform for sustainable 3P concepts for DPS in key European regions and an online barn climate and emission control tool will be available. The MilKey platform will be a long-lasting multi-actor knowledge hub to increase understanding and knowledge of sustainable DPS and to intensify the dialogue between science, farmers, stakeholders and policy, also beyond the project lifetime. MilKey integrates a decision support system to assist making knowledgeable decisions on 3P sustainability.

What: The MilKey project will develop a whole system concept (a holistic approach) for achieving 3P sustainability of DPS targeted to key European regions. Greenhouse gases’ (GHG) and nitrogen mitigation is a core aim of Milkey, accompanied by the assessment of other environmental impacts and of the economic and social effects of the proposed mitigation options.

Why: European dairy production systems (DPS) face many challenges across the three pillars (3P) of sustainability and are highly diverse and complex, thus requiring region-specific mitigation concepts.

Where: The research is carried out by 10 leading research institutes in Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland, Greece, Norway and Poland, involving case study farms in these countries. MilKey is accompanied by an advisory board adding expertise from the UK, Portugal, Brazil, Spain and China to the project outcome.

Main project activities:

  • Analysis of the drivers and the sustainability aspects of dairy production systems in key European regions.

Sustainable dairy production requires system thinking, as a complex set of interdependent components like feed production, animal health, welfare, breeding, feeding, housing, pasture, manure management, and food quality should simultaneously be taken into account. . Sustainability of dairy production has to be investigated in a whole systems’ approach, assessing the environmental, economic and social aspects of highly heterogeneous DPS. MilKey will use data, models and technologies that have been developed by the participating partners and develop them further within the project lifetime.

  • Assessment of the 3-pillar sustainability on case study dairy production systems

Case studies play an important role in the MilKey concept. They will be used to deliver data for the model optimisation and to characterise typical parameters of dairy production in key European areas. Several options for environmental improvement, and aspects and indicators of social sustainability will be identified. Measures to optimise case study farms will be suggested and the system responses will be assessed. In addition to their scientific value, case study farms play a decisive role in communicating MilKey results to a broad stakeholder audience.

  • Assessment of the 3-pillar sustainability interactions, emission mitigation potentials and key GHG mitigation techniques

Farm-level strategies proposed to improve sustainability of dairy production can be highly diverse, and tools to assess their effectiveness and their impacts across different scales are scarce. Such tools must aim not only on the direct effects on farm level indicators, but need also to target the complex interplay between local and global effects, as well as interactions between biophysical, ecological and socio-economic processes. MilKey will rely on an LCA approach for achieving this objective.

  • Development and demonstration of an online monitoring tool for barn climate and emission control

The Online Tool for monitoring Indoor barn Climate, animal stress and Emission levels of air pollutants (OTICE) to be developed in the MilKey project aims to be a decisive step forward in automating barn climate control for lower emissions and better animal welfare. Real-time visualisation of temporal and spatial distribution of the monitored data inside the barns will be used for continuous optimisation of mitigation measures and for the monitoring of their effectiveness.

  • Development of the MilKey platform for information and communication on key sustainability parameters of European dairy production systems

MilKey will develop an online platform to assist in tailoring dairy production across Europe towards improved sustainability, integrating region-specific input variables and including information on the potential synergies and trade-offs associated with the proposed options. Therefore, the Platform will host data and algorithms on animal nutrition, barn and manure management and their environmental effects, as well as economic and social consequences of the different choices.  The aims of the MilKey Platform are to: a) assist decision-makers (e.g. farmers, extension services, consultants, policymakers) in making knowledge-based decisions on the 3-pillar sustainability concepts for dairy production systems and assess their consequences; b) provide information for consumers and the general public on key aspects of sustainable dairy production systems in European regions; and c) to continue the collaboration between the relevant stakeholders beyond the project’s lifetime and provide a basis for follow-up projects.

  • Provision of assistance to dairy farmers in improving the 3-pillar sustainability of their dairy production systems

MilKey will support European dairy production by raising awareness and stimulating long-term inter- and transdisciplinary multi-actor collaboration.

Concept and approach:

MilKey will establish a unified protocol to facilitate comparison of GHG emissions, mitigation options and sustainability assessments across case studies and key DPS European regions.

MilKey rely on Life Cycle Assessment and economic-biophysical modelling, as well as on literature studies and on-site data collection.

MilKey will focus on the assessment of 3P sustainability and on mitigation potentials for key European areas. It will assess flexible concepts for sustainable milk production in key European regions and identify co-benefits and trade-offs for each mitigation option.

Sustainability assessment in MilKey will be complemented by advances in technology and ICT to improve system performance. An online monitoring tool for barn climate and emissions (OTICE) will be developed and demonstrated by means of the latest advances in sensors, communication technologies, data analytics and modelling.

MilKey will assess combined strategies for low emissions, improved barn climate and good animal welfare.

MilKey will develop a platform, which will be a decision support system to assist in tailoring DPS towards improved sustainability including information on the potential synergies and trade-offs associated with the proposed impact mitigation options. The platform will host data and algorithms on animal nutrition, barn and manure management, as well as on economic and social effects.

MilKey will put the focus on the farmers. It will investigate farmers’ habits and motives regarding farming practices, climate change, and GHG emissions mitigation options, and examine their social embeddedness in the farm household and the community.

Project consortium:

Coordinated by: Dr. Barbara Amon, Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering and Bioeconomy, ATB, (Germany)

  • POLAND: University of Zielona Góra and Poznan University of Life Sciences
  • GREECE: Agricultural University of Athens
  • BELGIUM: Flanders Research Institute for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
  • IRELAND: TEAGASC - Agriculture and Food Development Authority and School of Agriculture & Food Science 
  • FRANCE: Joint Research Unit Soil, Agro- and Hydro-systems, Spatialization of the French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment and French Livestock Institute
  • NORWAY: Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research

Advisory Board: Cláudia Cordovil (University of Lisbon); Agustin del Prado (Basque Centre for Climate Change); Hongmin Dong (CAAS); Vinícius Pereira Guimarães (Embrapa); Tom Misselbrook (Rothamsted Research)