Assessment of Reduction in Environmental Burdens Through Targeted Measures Compared with Whole Farm Approaches in Cropping and Livestock Systems: Final Report for Project IF0131

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


This project originates from a strong and increasing focus both within government and the industry on reducing the environmental footprint of agriculture. In 2007 Defra commissioned the University of Hertfordshire to undertake a project that would explore how whole farm approaches might help deliver positive environmental outcomes, particularly with respect to Defra's policy goals. More specifically Defra wanted to gain a good insight into what whole farm approaches could be expected to deliver in terms of environmental outcomes, compared with more targeted approaches. At the same time as this project was being undertaken, Defra's Sustainable Farm Management Team began working on an initiative to improve the environmental performance of farming. As there was a considerable overlap between the objectives of this programme and the IF0131 project, IF0131 was adapted to help support this initiative by broadening the project scope to encompass socio-economic and animal welfare objectives and to cover a wider range of assurance schemes in more detail. The main objectives of the project were to:

• undertake a comprehensive and critical state-of-the-art review of whole farm and targeted approaches to environmental management;
• analyse the causal processes and mechanisms by which different approaches influence environmental outcomes;
• critique existing management systems to identify their strengths and weaknesses;
• assess the relative performance of whole farm versus targeted approaches for achieving environmental outcomes; and
• develop proposals for an environmental management system and create a prototype.

These objectives were achieved within five approaches. Firstly, a literature review including policy objectives and outcomes; whole farm and targeted initiatives; and scientific knowledge on the environmental, socio-economic and animal health and welfare impacts of agriculture. Secondly, an analysis of causal processes and mechanisms, using the knowledge base collated in the literature review to establish the linkages between activities, effects and outcomes. This information has been captured in an activity-effect-outcome (AEO) database. Thirdly, a critique of existing management systems was undertaken using the activity-effect-outcome database to assess the relative performance of a number of whole farm and targeted schemes and initiatives. The first part of the critique involved undertaking a content analysis of a number of UK and global assurance schemes. The second part was an outcome assessment for the assurance schemes included in the content analysis and a number of targeted initiatives including cross compliance, ELS and the Voluntary Initiative. Fourthly, the relative performance of whole farm versus targeted approaches was assessed using the results generated in approach 3. Whole farm and targeted systems have been examined to determine their potential benefit and burdens, in terms of what they provide on their own and in combination, in order to determine the degree of overlap and/or where different schemes and initiatives provide a unique benefit or burden. Finally, an environmental management system was proposed and a prototype developed. This is based on the philosophy of utilising the work undertaken in the previous tasks, to build on existing systems where possible, and to develop a tool that is simple to use with minimal data input.

The main conclusion of the analysis of whole farm versus targeted initiatives is that although there are overlaps, targeted initiatives tend to address those issues that are not being addressed by whole farm approaches. This is not unexpected, given that the main whole farm approaches examined, i.e. assurance schemes, are market driven and the targeted initiatives are government driven and are thus attempting to address market failure.

Whether a truly whole farm system exists is debatable. LEAF Marque in combination with an assurance scheme comes close, but it is tied in with a market based scheme and as such becomes another list of conformance points, rather than a whole farm management system. Ideally, a true whole farm approach is one which addresses all activities on a farm, integrates decisions on those activities and addresses multiple objectives and outcomes. Some of the whole farm and targeted initiatives covered in this study could be considered as tools to aid management, such as the checklists of assurance schemes, but each operates in its own right with its own objectives. The environmental management system proposed within this study (known as OASys) aims to integrate with schemes and provide the holistic perspective that is needed for any business to evolve in a sustainable direction.

The OASys (Outcome from Agricultural Systems) tool has attempted to not 'reinvent the wheel' and to build upon existing systems and data. There is little room for additional audits in an industry that is already heavily burdened with record keeping and 'paperwork', be it for statutory or marketing purposes. OASys utilises the databases developed within this project (the AEO and schemes and initiatives databases) to provide a farm with an assessment of their relative strengths and weaknesses in relation to a broad range of environmental, socio-economic and animal health and welfare outcomes. A farm simply selects the enterprises, schemes and policies that are in place on the farm and this determines what activities are (or are not) being done. This results in a performance profile for the farm, which can then be interrogated to generate a list of activities that will help improve performance for one, more or all of the outcomes. This action plan is then supported with relevant help and guidance (drawn from the ADLib resource) to help users implement the suggested actions. Thus a cycle of continuous improvement is established (audit, assessment, action plan, implementation, audit, etc.).

To conclude, this has been a very holistic research project covering a broad range of issues. The broad perspective does mean some issues have not been covered in depth, and thus there are limitations on the findings. However, it is deemed that such an approach is necessary in order to gain a full grasp on understanding of sustainability within agricultural systems. Thus, it is hoped that the work undertaken provides a good foundation for developing our knowledge and understanding of integrated farming and the development of tools and systems to help the industry evolve in a more sustainable direction.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherDepartment for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)
Number of pages203
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • agriculture
  • cropping
  • livestock
  • integrated systems
  • environment
  • sustainable


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