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Evidence of sustainable intensification among British farms

Firbank, L.G., Elliott, J., Drake, B., Cao, Y., Gooday, R.
Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 2013 v.173 pp. 58-65
air quality, ammonia, biodiversity, climate, ecosystem services, emissions, environmental sustainability, farm profitability, farmers, farms, feeds, food production, food service, food shortages, greenhouse gases, habitats, highlands, input costs, interviews, land management, livestock, meat, milk yield, motivation, nitrates, renewable energy sources
Several influential reports have suggested that one of the most appropriate responses to expected food shortages and ongoing environmental degradation is sustainable intensification, i.e. the increase of food production with at worst no increase in environmental harm, and ideally environmental benefit. Here we sought evidence of sustainable intensification among British farmers by selecting innovative arable, dairy, mixed and upland farms and analysing their own data on yields, inputs and land use and management for 2006 and 2011. The evidence was obtained by interview, and was interpreted in terms of the ecosystem services of food production (GJha−1, where area took into account estimated area to grow any imported animal feeds), regulation of climate, air and water quality (modelled emissions of GHGs (CO2eha−1), ammonia (kgha−1) and nitrate loss (kgha−1)) and biodiversity (using an index based on the presence of habitats and management).Several farms have increased both food production and other ecosystem services over this time by increasing yields, using resources more efficiently and/or enhancing biodiversity, and sometimes by reducing livestock numbers and increasing cropping. The motivation has been to improve farm profitability through increasing food production, reducing input costs and accessing public payments through agri-environment schemes and generating renewable energy. Such sustainable intensification was not achieved by farmers who increased meat or milk yields.Sustainable intensification can be achieved when the correct drivers are in place to influence the actions of individual farmers. Also, it is possible to indicate sustainable intensification by using a small number of high-level indicators derived from data that farmers already hold, though such an approach may not capture the impacts of farmer innovative practices.