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Assessing the Sustainability of Low-input Animal Production

Assessing the Sustainability of Low-input Animal Production

One aspect of sustainability often overlooked is impact of the farming system on the quality of the food we produce. That's especially with respect to consumers’ health.

Feeding the world... but at what cost?

We could ‘feed the world’. It is not very sustainable if inducing chronic health conditions among the population.


Overview: Increasing productivity, resource efficiency and product quality to increase the economic competitiveness of forage and grazing based cattle production systems. SusCatt is an ERA-NET project under the European Research area on Sustainable Animal Production – otherwise known as SusAn.


Project duration: September 2017 - August 2020

Challenge: The productivity of milk and meat production from European cattle has increased considerably in recent decades. However, the sustainability of this intensification is questioned due to environmental and animal welfare trade-offs and growing reliance on edible food and imported soy as feed.

Objectives: This project aims to evaluate the productivity, resource-use efficiency and consumers’ acceptability of a transition to high forage and pasture diets for European cattle. It will focus on dairy, integrated dairy/beef and specialized beef production systems.

This will address:

  • productivity
  • product quality
  • animal health and welfare
  • economic performance
  • resource use efficiency
  • and consumer appreciation

Expected results: The main hypotheses are that transition to high forage and non-food diets will enhance product quality, animal health and welfare, resource efficiency and consumer acceptability, by matching appropriate diets, breeds and production systems and by rearing all dairy bred calves. The project involves modelling, experimental and participatory R&D activities.

Potential Impact: Research findings will increase our knowledge on how European animal production can improve profitability, societal acceptance and environmental credibility, as well as becoming more resilient to external influences such as global markets.

Coordinated by: Dr. Håvard Steinshamn, The Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research (NORWAY)

Other research partners:

  • Germany: Institute of Crop Science and Plant Breeding, Kiel University
  • Italy: University of Padova
  • Poland: Istytut Genetyki i Hodowli Zwierzat PAN Jastrzebiec
  • Sweden: RISE Research Institutes of Sweden and Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences


Overview: SusPigSys (Sustainable pig production systems) is an ERA-NET project under the European Research area on Sustainable Animal Production (SusAn)


Project Duration: September 2017 - August 2020

Challenge: Despite pig farmers’ needs for recommendations on how to optimise the balance between apparently conflicting pillars of sustainability (economy, environment, society), there is very little on-farm data to support informed holistic decisions.

Objectives: This project aims at collecting, summarising and disseminating evidence-based information on successful strategies for improving sustainability in various pig production systems across the EU.

Expected results: Project outcomes include an integrative on-farm assessment and feedback tool to help pig farmers to improve their economic, environmental and societal sustainability, as well as their job satisfaction. This toolbox will be linked with an existing international pig production database, and include information on possible trade-offs between the three pillars of sustainability.

It will be integrated in a software to form a farmer decision support tool with farm-individual feedback. In addition, descriptions of best practices will be published in various formats to help farmers learn from each other across borders.

Potential impact: The project will be the first holistic approach of sustainability using actual transnational on-farm data. The results have the potential to increase the competitiveness of the EU pig production by making a more convincing benchmarking of sustainability possible.

Coordinated by: Dr. Sabine Dippel - Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut (GERMANY)

Other research partners:

  • Austria: University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences
  • Germany: FiBL Deutschland e.V.
  • Finland: University of Helsinki
  • Italy: Fondazione CRPA Studi e Ricerche
  • The Netherlands: Wageningen University of Life Sciences
  • Poland: Warsaw University of Life Sciences

Sustainable Intensification Platform

Overview: Sustainable Intensification Platform (SIP) was a wide ranging DEFRA and Welsh Government funded, multi-partner research programme involving farmers, industry experts, academia, environmental organisations, policymakers and other stakeholders.

The project ran for three and a half years until November - the network of five study farms, including Nafferton and seven landscape areas was central to the research. These established research centres were chosen from a range of farming sectors, systems and situations across England and Wales and work in related areas continues beyond the end of the Project.

SIP explored the opportunities and risks of Sustainable Intensification (SI) from a range of perspectives and landscape scales across England and Wales, conducting collaborative research to apply methods of sustainable intensification in agriculture.

The platform itself:

  • developed a community of practice - with stronger links between scientists, farmers, economists, eco-services, policymakers and other environmental and agricultural stakeholders
  • utilised study farms (including Nafferton) to host research on farming systems and land management
  • and created a data platform to enable access to the wealth of data collected within the SIP projects for researchers, policymakers and other interested parties

At Nafferton’s we considered:

  • the potential for waste recycling (greenwaste compost, anaerobic digestate, FYM and cattle slurry) as fertilisers for rye and spelt crops
  • developing management guidelines for these alternative cereals
  • investigating the scope for rapeseed to boost the nutritional quality of milk produced in winter when cows are housed


People: Gillian Butler’s current research considers the impact of organic or low input management on product quality, primarily looking at animal fats; learning lessons how we can sustainably produce dairy produce, meat and eggs that are better for our health. Find out more:

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