Case studies

In order to produce results relevant for a wide range of geographic and socio-economic contexts, AnimalFuture is built on eight case studies regions. These case study regions present a variety of animal production systems in six countries across the European Union: four regions are mainly characterized by extensive systems and four are characterized by intensive systems .

What was investigated in the case study regions

  1. With the involvement of local actors, we identified sustainability challenges and the innovative practices conceived and applied by the local actors for addressing these issues. This was done through collaborative workshops and interviews, bringing together local and regional actors via a multi-actor approach,
  2. we collected data at the farm level in order to calculate indicators about different aspects of sustainability (environment, economy, society).

1. France – Boulonnais: Extensive dairy cows

France, Boulonnais — Extensive dairy cows system

The territory of Boulonnais is located in the north of France, by the sea, and is covered by 40% of permanent grasslands and 21% of woods and cliffs, wetlands and dune. Its specific natural environment (meadows surrounded by hedgerows) makes it suitable for livestock farming: 90% of the 676 farms of the region have livestock, among them 54% breed dairy cows for milk production. In 2010 agriculture stood for 2,5% of the employment of the region (decrease of 31% in comparison with 2000). The proximity with the city of Boulogne provides an important consumption center and favors the emergence of producers’ stores to sale local products.

Sustainability issues and challenges

The Boulonnais has to cope with variable climatic conditions, with random forage yields as a consequence. With a poorly profitable milk production, farmers and food industries are investing less and therefore agricultural dynamics are decreasing: employees and young farmers are difficult to find, production tools are ageing, current farmers show signs of resignation etc. Competition with neighbours also undermines the viability of the Boulonnais farms (better lands, lower labour cost, better productivity etc.)

2. Germany – Upper Bavaria: Dual-purpose dairy cows

Dual purpose cattle, upper Bavaria – Dual purpose dairy cows

The region of Upper Bavaria is located in South East Bavaria. It is dominated by extended grassland areas in the Alps and Alpine Foreland and more arable lands towards the north. While there is sufficient precipitation in the southern part, water shortages can become a problem in the more northern regions. Compared to the rest of Germany, the farms in Upper Bavaria are rather small - the average size is 35 ha. Almost 94% of farms are family farms and more than 50% are run by part time farmers. Due to these structures and the high share of own land, the farms in Upper Bavaria are relatively resilient. Upper Bavaria is one of the wealthiest regions in Germany. The services sector is extremely strong.

Sustainability issues and challenges

Upper Bavaria is economically wealthy, the region faces sustainability challenges that need to be addressed. The high opportunity costs of labour make it difficult for farmers to find qualified employees. Furthermore, strong competition for land impedes the development of the farms. High stocking densities especially in the south result in problems regarding manure management. An increasingly critical general public is demanding higher standards in livestock farming while prices for agricultural products remain low. The focus of the Lower Bavaria case study will be on dual purpose cattle.

3. Germany – Lower Bavaria: Pigs

A pig farm in Lower Bavaria (Photo credit: Anton Reindl)

The second German case study, Lower Bayern, is located in central East Bavaria. It’s characterised by extended forests in the east, intensive pig production areas in the south and west and partly extremely fertile arable lands. The economic situation in Lower Bayern is good, especially for a rather rural area. This is due to a very strong production industry and related services. While the farm structure is generally comparable to the Upper Bayern region, farms in Lower Bayern tend to be located outside of villages. This and the existence of two big slaughterhouses (short transportation routes) was beneficial for the development of a strong pig production sector.

Sustainability issues and challenges

Pig farmers struggle with increasing disapproval from the civil society. Issues dominating the public debate are the size of farrowing crates, castration of piglets without anaesthesia and environmental aspects related to emissions. Communities like towns and villages are often unwilling to authorize new building projects (for example for environmental or water protection reasons) and the local population often opposes new stables. This and increasing leasing prices for land make it more and more difficult for farms to develop. Changing consumer demands regarding animal welfare and increasing concern about environmental aspects need to be addressed to make pig farming fit for the future.

4. The Netherlands – Gelderland: Laying hens

Laying hens in Gelderland (Photo credit: Evelien De Olde)

Two case studies in the Netherlands will focus on laying hens in the province of Gelderland. The province of Gelderland is located in the east of the Netherlands. The province has a diverse range of landscape types from river landscapes with fruit production, grassland areas with dairy farms, to the National Park ‘De Hoge Veluwe’ situated on a hill ridge with forest, sand dunes and heath. Although the laying hen sector only covers 3% of the farms in the province of Gelderland (approximately 350 farms), it accounts for 31% of the Dutch farms involved in egg production. With over 12 million chickens, the province houses 26% of the laying hens in the Netherlands. The majority of the laying hen farms are located on the sandy soils in the Veluwe region, which is historically known as the Dutch poultry region. The laying hen farms in Gelderland are somewhat smaller than the average Dutch farms with an average of 35,737 hens per farm compared to the Dutch average of 42,423 hens per farm.

Sustainability issues and challenges

Although the Dutch egg sector provides certain benefits including employment and the production of a nutritious food, it also faces environmental, economic and social challenges such as the emission of particulate matter and associated public health concerns, feed-food competition, and pressure on farm income.

5. France – Bourbonnais: Beef cattle

France, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes — Beef cattle

The Bourbonnais region, centrally located in France has a beautiful natural environment that lends itself well to farming. With more than 10,000 people working across 5,523 farms, agriculture is a significant portion of the workforce in this region. Within that, beef production dominates the industry, followed then by crops and sheep/goat production. However the number of farms in the Bourbonnais region has been decreasing; between 2000 and 2010, the numbers of farms fell by 25%, mostly within the sectors of beef and dairy farms. The Bourbonnais beef market industry relies on the presence of official meat production labels (e.g. Label Rouge) and outside buyers (primarily Italian butchers).

Sustainability issues and challenges

Generally, the market is unstable, resulting in fluctuation of prices and uncertainty of sales. Many farms suffered during the 2015 sanitary crisis (FCO) with the closure of various markets. The Turkish market for example had great potential and once was a major buyer of Bourbonnais cattle, but was forced to cease its purchases due to sanitation concerns. In addition, Bourbonnais farms have to face with a lack of transmission - farms are decreasing at a rapid rate as no one wants to take them over - and the diminishing demand for red meat. The beautiful grasslands of the Bourbonnais regions are also endangered by droughts, especially over the past two years.

6. Portugal – Alentejo

Portugal, Alentejo (Tatiana Valada)

Alentejo is located in Southern Portugal. It is the least populated region in the country, representing over one third of the national territory but only about 7% of its population. Its population is decreasing, with about 20% being 65 or older. More than half of the agricultural used area is allocated to permanent pastures. In the past decade, the number of farms has been decreasing. Alentejo is the Portuguese region with more livestock, as nearly half of all Portuguese livestock (cattle, pigs, sheep and goats) is in that region.

Sustainability issues and challenges

A low level of farmers qualification, aided by a lack of knowledge transfer between academia, policy makers and farmers and by a lack of rural extension, contribute to a low technological level. Although there is frequently an excessive stocking rate, induced by policy incentives, its poor management, namely a low efficiency on the use of input factors such as feed, dictates a low profitability per unit area and a high dependence on public economic incentives.

7. Spain – Aragón: Extensive sheep farming systems

Spain, Aragón (Photo credit:Tamara Rodriguez Ortega)

The region of Aragón is located in Northeast Spain. It has a diverse geomorphology with a wide river catchment bordered by mountains on the north (up to 3400 m) and south (2000 m). The climate is mostly Mediterranean with a strong mountain-valley climatic gradient that drives the distribution of vegetation and an uneven availability of natural pastures and grasslands. This ecological heterogeneity has led to the very diverse farming systems.

Agriculture represents 5% of the regional economy (7% at the country level). Most of Aragón is considered a less favoured area because of its biophysical limitations, limited economic options, and depopulation. Over the past decades, both the numbers of sheep and sheep farms have decreased (38% and 32.5%, respectively between 2005 and 2012) but average flock size has increased. Aragón holds 10.9% of the national sheep census (around 16 million in 2016).

Sheep farms use a wide diversity of feed resources, from cereal stubbles, forage crops, fallows, and permanent crops to a variety of grasslands: alpine pastures, permanent meadows, xerotrophic grasslands and even steppic vegetation in arid areas, shrublands and forests. The seasonal low availability of pastures is compensated with complementary resources and short transhumance (valley-mountain), which is still frequent. The lactating lambs are raised either on pasture or indoors until weaning (around 45 days of age), when lambs are fattened off-pasture on high-concentrate diets (until 90 days of age and about 23kg of live weight).

Sustainability issues and challenges

Despite the wide variety of sheep farming systems, there are some common factors that threaten the future of sheep production: high dependency on CAP premiums; lack of generational turnover; conflicts related to land access; volatility of input prices; stagnation and seasonality of the lamb price and decreasing consumption. Additionally, there is some concern about the uneven evolution of other sectors (e.g. breeding sows and pig farms have increased 7% and 16.5%, respectively between 2005 and 2012).

8. UK – Highlands and Islands of Scotland: Sheep

Scotland (Photo credit: Claire Morgan Davies)

The region of Highlands and Islands of Scotland is located in the North West of the British Isles. It is dominated by large amounts of open habitats and rough grazing areas of high nature conservation value (peatlands, species-rich grasslands). Most of the farms in this area are classed as Less Favoured Areas (LFA) sheep and cattle farms. The farm distribution is skewed, with very large farms (>1500 sheep and >2000 ha) and small crofts (small part-time farmers with access to common grazing). The area is challenged in terms of productivity and environmental conditions (wet and windy).

Sustainability issues and challenges

Agriculture plays an important role in this area, but the available rural labour is declining. Over a third of the farmers is aged over 65, and over half are 55 years and older. This proportion has been increasing faster than the rest of the population. The business income of these farms has declined faster than the rest of the UK and farms in these areas are highly dependent on public support. There are conflicts between the different activities (farming, game, recreation, forestry and water). The area is also challenged in terms of access, affordability of housing and rural poverty.