A method to select alternative agricultural activities for future-oriented land use studies

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Studies aimed at assessing agriculture in the context of climate change, natural resource use and food security are only useful if they account for the effect of changes in agricultural management and technological innovation. The challenge is, however, that the number of possible alternative management options and technological changes is enormous which hinders a transparent analysis. This paper presents an approach based on Data Envelopment Analysis (DEA) to identify a manageable set of representative alternative activities out of a large set of possible alternatives. The smaller set is superior in terms of different indicators that are relevant from an economic, environmental or policy point of view. The selected, superior activities can then be further analysed in a farm or natural resource use model. To demonstrate the usefulness of the method we applied it to a range of possibilities that arise if cattle manure is used instead of fertilizers in arable farms in Flevoland (the Netherlands), where due to manure surplus, arable farmers can apply manure at low costs. A large set of alternative activities (16,514) for an average arable farm in Flevoland was generated using combinatorial procedures and agronomic rules. Nutrient balances and environmental indicators were calculated at the activity level. The proposed DEA method was used to select only the superior activities in terms of a number of economic and environmental indicators. Applying DEA decreased the number of activities by 85% to 2429 activities. This smaller set of activities was then further analysed using the bio-economic optimization model Farm Systems SIMulator (FSSIM-MP). It was found that manure becomes economically interesting to farmers when transportation and application costs are low (lower than 2 €/ton of manure). Comparison of the use of 16,514 activities and the 2429 activities in the same farm model resulted in exactly the same results showing that the selection method is valid. Especially when repeated calculations need to be done the selection procedure reduces the total time required for computation and facilitates the analysis of the results. The proposed method can be a complementary component for existing and future combinatorial tools that aim to identify and quantify alternative activities for policy assessment or future studies in general
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-85
JournalEuropean Journal of Agronomy
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • data envelopment analysis
  • policy
  • options
  • models
  • tool
  • efficiency
  • systems
  • scale
  • farms


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