Environmental benefits of farm- and district-scale crop-livestock integration: a European perspective

Philippe Leterme, Thomas Nesme, John T. Regan, H. Korevaar

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Specialized farms and districts generally perform poorly when assessed in terms of environmental impact or ecosystem services provision. Well-managed synergies between crop and livestock production occurring either at the farm scale or at the district scale have the potential to limit environmental problems via, for example, nutrient cycle closure and diversified crop rotations and land uses. However, there is a lack of research using empirical farm data to quantify the actual benefits or drawbacks of crop-livestock integration strategies. Therefore, a farming system approach was used in the “Crops and Animal Together” project (FP7 Project CANTOGETHER) to assess diverse strategies of crop-livestock integration at both farm (10 farms in FR, NL, IT, IE, UK) and district levels (5 districts in ES, IE, FR, NL, CH). The district-level strategies assessed were (1) local exchange of materials among farms (grain, slurry); (2) provision of high-quality forages (cooperative dehydration facility); (3) land exchange between dairy and arable farms; and (4) animal exchanges between lowland and highland regions (heifer rearing). A selection of noncooperating baseline farms (specialized and, where available, mixed) were compared with specialized cooperating farms in each district.

Results confirmed that it was the physical integration and complementarity between crops and animals (e.g., home-grown feed, recycling of wastes as fertilizers), not just their coexistence, that was decisive for achieving improved environmental performance at the farm level. Unfortunately, integration at the farm level had the drawbacks of increased workload and reduced productivity and economic performance. At the district level, organization between farms through strategies such as those assessed generally improved productivity and economic performances. However, the potential ecologic benefits of cooperation at district level are restricted by a rebound effect: farmers choosing to use the resources made available via cooperation to intensify their operations as opposed to diversifying them or reducing inputs.

In spite of this intensification, cooperation led to environmental benefits by increasing input use efficiency and reducing environmental impacts of farming when expressed per unit of agricultural product produced. An important finding was that territorial cooperation appeared as a key strategy to enable the farms that have implemented a high level of integration between crop and livestock to recover sufficient profitability.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAgroecosystem diversity
Subtitle of host publicationReconciling contemporary agriculture and environment quality
EditorsGilles Lemaire, Paulo César De Faccio Carvalho, Scott Kronberg, Sylvie Recous
PublisherAcademic Press
ISBN (Print)9780128110508
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Crop-livestock integration
  • District level
  • Diversity
  • Farm level
  • Innovations
  • Specialization


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