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Is there a future for organic production in high ecological value ecosystems?

Horrillo, A., Escribano, M., Mesias, F.J., Elghannam, A., Gaspar, P.
Agricultural systems 2016 v.143 pp. 114-125
Common Agricultural Policy, beef, cows, ecological value, ecosystems, experts, farms, funding, livestock production, market prices, models, nonrenewable resources, organic foods, organic production, pastures, production technology, rangelands, rearing, sales, socioeconomics, stocking rate, Iberian Peninsula, Spain
Dehesas (rangelands typically located in the Southwest of Spain) are agro-silvo-pastoral systems traditionally used in agriculture and livestock farming, where livestock uses large pasturelands in wooded regions. These systems stand out for their high environmental and socio-economic value, where livestock farming plays an essential role in their maintenance and conservation. The dehesa is located in the SW quadrant of the Iberian Peninsula, occupying a total area of 5.8 million hectares in Spain and 0.5 million hectares in Portugal.Within this context, this paper analyses the potential these systems have to switch from the traditional model to organic production, in particular in the case of beef, as cows are the main livestock being reared in dehesas. For this purpose, we have used a Delphi analysis with a panel of experts in organic livestock production on dehesas. A total of 47 experts were selected from public institutions, farming, research bodies, agricultural organisations and companies in the industry.After a two-round study, some of the most relevant aspects for the future of organic beef production in dehesas were analysed: the evolution of its productive system, the marketing of the produce and the positive or negative effects—either as a stimulus or a deterrent—that the EU Common Agricultural Policy its agri-environmental measures would have. The experts highlighted some relevant aspects that hinder the implementation and/or the transition from a traditional farm to an organic model, i.e. sales of the final product becoming stagnant, the lack of self-sufficiency in organic feed and the difficulty of access to organic certified slaughterhouses.In this sense, the implementation of specific lines of subsidised funding that encourage the production of organic beef in dehesas would be desirable. These support schemes, together with marketing improvements and the increase of market prices, would guarantee the continuity of the holdings in this production segment.It has also been agreed that the transition from traditional farms to organic production systems will result in a reduction in the use of non-renewable resources, thus decreasing stocking rates and finally increasing the environmental externalities of the dehesas, which would therefore enhance their conservation.