Is it possible to increase the sustainability of arable and ruminant agriculture by reducing inputs?
Until recently, agricultural production was optimised almost exclusively for profit but now farming is under pressure to meet environmental targets. A method is presented and applied for optimising the sustainability of agricultural production systems in terms of both economics and the environment. Components of the agricultural production chain are analysed using environmental life-cycle assessment (LCA) and a financial value attributed to the resources consumed and burden imposed on the environment by agriculture, as well as to the products. The sum of the outputs is weighed against the inputs and the system considered sustainable if the value of the outputs exceeds those of the inputs. If this ratio is plotted against the sum of inputs for all levels of input, a diminishing returns curve should result and the optimum level of sustainability is located at the maximum of the curve. Data were taken from standard economic almanacs and from published LCA reports on the extent of consumption and environmental burdens resulting from farming in the UK. Land-use is valued using the concept of ecosystem services. Our analysis suggests that agricultural systems are sustainable at rates of production close to current levels practiced in the UK. Extensification of farming, which is thought to favour non-food ecosystem services, requires more land to produce the same amount of food. The loss of ecosystem services hitherto provided by natural land brought into production is greater than that which can be provided by land now under extensive farming. This loss of ecosystem service is large in comparison to the benefit of a reduction in emission of nutrients and pesticides. However, food production is essential, so the coupling of subsidies that represent a relatively large component of the economic output in EU farming, with measures to reduce pollution are well-aimed. Measures to ensure that as little extra land is brought into production as possible or that marginal land is allowed to revert to nature would seem to be equally well-aimed, even if this required more intensive use of productive areas. We conclude that current arable farming in the EU is sustainable with either realistic prices for products or some degree of subsidy and that productivity per unit area of land and greenhouse gas emission (subsuming primary energy consumption) are the most important pressures on the sustainability of farming.
If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.
As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.
References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:
- Ehui, Simeon K. & Spencer, Dunstan S.C., 1992. "A General Approach for Evaluating the Economic Viability of Sustainability of Tropical Cropping Systems," Occasional Paper Series No. 6 197740, International Association of Agricultural Economists.
- Pretty, J. N. & Brett, C. & Gee, D. & Hine, R. E. & Mason, C. F. & Morison, J. I. L. & Raven, H. & Rayment, M. D. & van der Bijl, G., 2000. "An assessment of the total external costs of UK agriculture," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 65(2), pages 113-136, August.
- Pretty, J.N. & Ball, A.S. & Lang, T. & Morison, J.I.L., 2005. "Farm costs and food miles: An assessment of the full cost of the UK weekly food basket," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 30(1), pages 1-19, February.
- Lien, Gudbrand & Brian Hardaker, J. & Flaten, Ola, 2007. "Risk and economic sustainability of crop farming systems," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 94(2), pages 541-552, May.
- Espinosa, A. & Harnden, R. & Walker, J., 2008. "A complexity approach to sustainability - Stafford Beer revisited," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 187(2), pages 636-651, June.
When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:agisys:v:99:y:2009:i:2-3:p:117-125. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.
For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Dana Niculescu)
If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.
If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.
If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.
If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.
Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.