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Development of methodology for assessing the environmental, economic and social characteristics of (organic and non-organic) farming systems - OF0386

Description
Defra has a strategic objective to protect and enhance the rural environment and to improve the attractiveness and biodiversity of the countryside. Meeting this objective will require multiple approaches, one of which is to encourage an expansion of sustainable farming. To help deliver this expansion, and to provide a sound evidence base for comparing the sustainability of different farming systems, information is required on existing farming systems to assess, and compare, their economic, environmental and social performances and how they impact on the wider environment.

The UK supports a wide range of diverse farming systems (organic, low input, extensive, integrated, intensive, etc.) which range from small organic multi-crop enterprises to large non-organic mono-culture arable systems, and from lowland dairy units to upland sheep flocks. Defra describe twenty-five main farms systems but it is likely that upwards of one hundred types exist in practice. All these farm systems have different economic, environmental and social characteristics which define their contribution to, and impact on, society. This project will develop methodology to assess the impact, productivity and sustainability of different farming systems.

All farming systems possess unique, or shared, characteristics which directly influence economic, environmental and social outcomes, for example, the use of nitrogen fertiliser may be detrimental to the environment (non-organic systems) but beneficial for economic (higher profit) and social outcomes (greater food production). The project will describe and cross-reference all the individual characteristics that define the different farming systems and identify those that are capable of differentiating between them in respect of economic, environmental and social outcomes.

Once a set of characteristics have been identified, measurable indicators will be chosen to represent them and methodology will be developed which allows them to be assessed. The methodology will be based on a life-cycle approach and will consider inputs, products, outputs and impacts which represent the different farming systems. The methodology may subsequently be used to evaluate the productively and sustainability of different farming systems. The objectives are:

1. Establish a project steering group.
2. Review published and un-published work.
3. Describe a range of farming systems.
4. Identify the characteristics of those farming systems.
5. Develop methods that can be used to assess and quantify the impact of farming systems at appropriate scales.
6. Evaluate those methods, e.g. case studies.
7. Report on and discuss the results.

The outcome from the project will be methodology that is capable of distinguishing between all different farming systems and comparing/contrasting their environmental, economic and social credentials. Using key indicators, for example, yield, fertilizer and pesticides rates, and statistics on land holdings the method will allow limited ‘what-if’ questions to be answered. This facility will allow the impacts of different farming systems to be analysed and provide in-sights into policy scenarios.

The new method will be validated in two different ways. Firstly, a number of case studies, representing different farm types, will be assessed using real farm data and the results assessed qualitatively and statistically to ensure that the method is robust and fit for purpose. A second stage of validation will be undertaken where the results of the case studies will be discussed through two focus groups (farmer/grower, NGO, policymaker) to ensure that the method and outputs are capable of distinguishing between farming systems and to identify whether the outcome meets the needs of a wider audience.
Objective
7. (b) Objectives

To produce methodology for assessing the environmental, economic and social characteristics of (organic and non-organic) farming systems.

The project will describe the range of current UK farming systems (organic, low input, extensive, integrated, intensive, etc.) and develop methodology to describe their environmental, economic and social characteristics. The methodology will be based on a life-cycle approach and will consider inputs, products, outputs and impacts which will be characterised for the different farming systems. Indicators will be chosen to represent those characteristics and combined to produce the methodology which may subsequently be used to evaluate the productivity and sustainability of different farming systems.

The specific objectives of the project are:

1. Establish a project steering group.
2. Review published and un-published work.
3. Describe a range of farming systems.
4. Identify the characteristics of those farming systems.
5. Develop methods that can be used to assess and quantify the impact of farming systems at appropriate scales.
6. Validate the method using case studies.
7. Report on and discuss the results.

Project Documents
• ROAME Document : OF0386   (165k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2009

To: 2012

Cost: £520,610
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Warwick - HRI
Keywords
Environmental Impacts              
Integrated Farming Systems              
Sustainable Farming and Food Science              
Sustainable Farming Systems