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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Sustainability assessment of economic, environmental and social impacts, feed-food competition and economic robustness of dairy and beef farming systems in South Western Europe

Zira, Stanley; Röös, Elin; Rydhmer, Lotta; Hoffmann, Ruben

Abstract

The objective of this study was to evaluate the sustainability of cattle systems in South Western Europe by combining life cycle sustainability assessment (LCSA) with assessment of feed-food competition and economic robustness. We studied three cattle systems using different proportions of semi-natural pasture, and producing either only beef or milk and beef, i.e. a dairy system with Holstein breed in the lowlands of France with <5% of the total land used being semi-natural pastures (HolSy), a dairy system with Montbeliarde breed in the highlands of France with approximately 25% of the total land used being semi-natural pastures (MonSy), and a pure beef system with Parda de Montana breed in the highlands of Spain with >85% of the total land used being semi-natural pastures (ParSy). The functional unit for LCSA was 1000 kg protein of animal origin and the system boundary was from cradle to farmgate. The cattle production systems were assessed using 27 indicators (LCSA, feed-food competition and robustness). The results indicated that MonSy performed less well for 10 and ParSy for 14 out of the 27 indicators researched when compared to HolSy, the reference case. HolSy was less sensitive to a support payment decrease and had lower social impacts on farmers than the other two systems. MonSy had lower impacts on some environmental indicators, lower life cycle costs, lower social impacts on society, lower human edible feed conversion ratio (i.e. less feed-food competition) for fat and less sensitivity to a meat price decrease than the other two systems. ParSy had lower terrestrial and freshwater ecotoxicity, lower human edible feed conversion ratio and land use ratio for protein, lower social impact for the local community, and a higher internal rate of return than the other systems. ParSy had less sensitivity to feed and energy price increases, and increased rented land and loan interest costs than the other systems. Producing both meat and milk at the same farm increased vulnerability to economic changes. Semi-natural pasture based dairy in highland Europe needs support payments to keep the farm economically afloat in times of economic changes e.g. due to shocks.

Keywords

Life cycle sustainability assessment; Life cycle assessment; Semi -natural pasture; Cropland; Cattle; Robustness

Published in

Sustainable Production and Consumption
2023, Volume: 36, pages: 439-448