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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2024

Beyond the Farm to Fork Strategy: Methodology for designing a European agro-ecological future

Billen, Gilles; Aguilera, Eduardo; Einarsson, Rasmus; Garnier, Josette; Gingrich, Simone; Grizzetti, Bruna; Lassaletta, Luis; Le Noe, Julia; Sanz-Cobena, Alberto


The publication of the European Commission's Farm to Fork Strategy has sparked a heated debate between those who advocate the intensification of agriculture in the name of food security and those who recommend its deintensification for environmental reasons. The design of quantified scenarios is a key approach to objectively evaluate the arguments of the two sides. To this end, we used the accounting methodology GRAFS (Generalized Representation of Agri-Food Systems) to describe the agri-food system of Europe divided into 127 geographical units of similar agricultural area, in terms of nitrogen (N) fluxes across cropland, grassland, livestock, and human consumption. This analysis reveals, in current European agriculture, a high level of territorial specialization, a strong dependence on long distance trade, and environmental N losses amounting to about 14 TgN/yr, i.e. nearly 70 % of the annual N input (including N synthetic fertilizers, symbiotic N fixation, oxidized N deposition and import of food and feed). Based on the analysis of the yield-fertilization relationship of cropping systems at the scale of their full rotation cycle, and on a simplified model of livestock ingestion, excretion and production, we advanced the GRAFS methodology for prospective scenario design. Three scenarios for the European agri-foodsystem were explored for 2050: a business-as-usual (BAU) scenario, a scenario based on the measures considered by the EU Farm to Fork Strategy (F2F) , a fully agro-ecological scenario (AE). The results show that the F2F scenario reduces the dependence of Europe on imports of synthetic fertilizers , feed resources by 40 % as well as the environmental N losses by 30 %, but not to the level of its claimed ambitions as N lost to the environment still amounts to about 10 TgN/yr, i.e. 67 % of N inputs. Of the three scenarios studied, only in the AE scenario, involving the relocation of feed production, the generalization of organic crop rotations with N fixing legume crops, and a shift of agricultural production and food consumption toward less animal-based products, would Europe be able to dispense with N imports, still being able to export some cereals, meat, and milk products to the rest of the world, while halving today's reactive N emissions to the environment.


European Agri-food system; Scenario design; Farm to Fork Strategy; Agro-ecological scenario; Crop rotations; Crop-livestock reconnection; Halving N waste

Published in

Science of the Total Environment
2024, Volume: 908, article number: 168160

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    Environmental Sciences related to Agriculture and Land-use

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