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Workshop 2.7

Sustainability of Dairy Farms - Concepts, Measurements and Empirical Results


Ludwig Theuvsen, Georg-August-University Göttingen Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development
Birthe Lassen, Thünen-Institute of Farm Economics
Monika Zehetmeier, Technische Universität München Department of Agricultural Economics

If you have any questions regarding this workshop, please turn directly to the convenors by sending an email.


Sustainability of dairy production is of increasing interest in the supply chain. Until today often single aspects are analysed but an overall picture of the situation in different farming systems is difficult to draw. The workshop focuses on conceptual frameworks and empirical results which show complex approaches to analyse sustainability in dairy production, considering ecological, economic and social aspects as well as animal wellbeing.


Sustainability of agricultural supply chains has become an important topic in the political discussion and in discussions among the society. More and more consumers question the way of food production in different parts of the supply chain and ask for more social responsibility and a more gentle use of natural resources. This is especially true for animal production. Pig and poultry farmers are in the main focus of public debates but also dairy production moves more into the focus of consumers, NGOs and political decision-makers nowadays. Several analyses on sustainability in dairy production focus on single aspects of ecological, social or economic sustainability, e.g. CO2-footprints, biodiversity, animal health, work load of farmers, occupational safety, or the economic sustainability of dairy farms. These results are important to get a detailed overview over the different impacts of dairy production but there are limitations to the conclusions which can be drawn from these partial analyses. Goals within the different fields might be conflictive: There are, for instance, advantages for the wellbeing of dairy cows if they have the chance to graze in well-managed pasture. On the other hand, certain environmental impacts can be higher from grazing cows than from cows which are kept indoors. Also, depending on the region, management of larger herds might become more difficult on pasture which limits economic profitability. Refraining from dehorning milk cows may increase animal wellbeing but, at the same time, will also reduce occupational safety of farmers. These trade-offs enforce scientists to develop alternative, much broader views and new overall approaches to consider the correlations between different aspects of sustainability in dairy production. Within these overall approaches there are different challenges to face: a) Where are system-borders to be drawn (What belongs to dairy production? Which effects have to be taken into account?); b) Where are synergies and where are trade-offs between different sustainability issues?, c) How do we weight single aspects of sustainability? and d) Which are the most important indicators to draw conclusions on how to organize and manage dairy production, how detailed figures do we need? Answering these (and related) questions will strongly contribute to outlining alternative dairy production systems which will help to sustainably feed the future. The workshop would like to give a room to all interested delegates and scientists who work in the field of dairy sustainability to discuss intensively the above-mentioned challenges and research questions. In doing so the workshop focuses on broader, overall approaches. These approaches should consider ecological, economic and social aspects as well as the wellbeing of dairy cows and young stock. They should not look for local optima but for a balanced approach which takes into account the synergies, but also conflicts between the various pillars of sustainable dairy production. The discussion should also address the question of applicability. Only methods which are suitable to be adopted by farmers of different farming systems will actually be implemented and used in the supply chain to increase the sustainability of the dairy sector. Workshop participants ideally have already worked in either one of the fields of sustainability and are interested in drawing an overall picture with linkages between the different aspects. As first studies in this field have been applied, workshop participants are keen to discuss both, first empirical results and new conceptual developments. This workshop will only focus on sustainability in dairy farming, not in dairy processing or packaging.

Workshop process

The workshop will be organised as a paper session. Depending on the number of submissions, presentations will be no longer than 15 minutes. Discussions will be organised as panel discussions with all presenters. Presenters will deliver one page with key information before the workshops to the participants. An additional goal, which has to be finally decided by the presenters after the workshop, is a joint journal publication or a special issue.

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