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A Europe-wide thematic network supporting a sustainable future for EU dairy farmers

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - EuroDairy (A Europe-wide thematic network supporting a sustainable future for EU dairy farmers)

Reporting period: 2017-08-01 to 2019-01-31

The aim of the EuroDairy Thematic Network was to increase the economic, social and environmental sustainability of dairy farming in Europe, targeting four key sustainability issues: socio economic resilience, resource efficiency, animal care, and the integration of milk production with biodiversity objectives.Specific objectives were to: - accelerate the uptake of best practice by exchanging knowledge cross border; capture and/or stimulate further innovative practice; synthesize scientific and practice-based knowledge into user-friendly formats; disseminate information widely to European dairy farmers; and collate ideas from end-users for further innovation-driven research.

EuroDairy followed the interactive model of the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) - putting farmers at the centre of practice-based innovation. As part of the multi-actor approach, the project recruited 120 Pilot Farms chosen for their innovative thinking and farming activity, and their willingness to share their experiences with others. To provide quantitative data, financial and resource efficiency data were collected on these farms over two financial years. To assess biodiversity potential, project set out to conduct biodiversity audits on a third of participating farms. The project aimed to combine the supporting measures of Thematic Networks, with the implementation of the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) under the Rural Development Programme, by connecting with 42 regional Operational Groups. Knowledge was exchanged across the network, by organising farmer exchange visits, technical workshops, and interactive webinars. Technical information was distilled into technical reports, leaflets, practice-based abstracts, videos, and decision support materials.
The project ran for three years from 1st February 2016, drawing input from 20 partners across 14 EU member states.
EuroDairy farmers were significantly more profitable than the average EU dairy farm. Entrepreneur’s profit, which includes all sources of actual and imputed costs, but excludes the value of Basic Farm Payment (BFP), was determined using the European Dairy Farmers (EDF) cost of production model. Only 26 of the 120 pilot farms showed positive Entrepreneur’s Profit in 2016, rising to 46 in 2017. Expressed as Family Farm Income (FFI - Total returns, less Cash costs, less Depreciation) 92 farms (or 77%) had a positive FFI in 2016 (4.8 €/100 kg milk). Driven by better milk price, the number of farms with a positive FFI in 2017 was 108 (90%), with an average FFI of 8.6 €100/kg milk. For comparative purposes, Gross Margin was calculated for EuroDairy Pilot farms and compared to FADN data for 2016. The FADN group had a Gross Margin of 88 €/ton of milk, while EuroDairy Pilot farms averaged 182 €/ton of milk. Calculating net economic income, only 9% of farms in the EU 28 had a positive value compared with 22% of EuroDairy pilot farms. Variation in N and P surplus and efficiencies respectively were calculated for each of 10 farm systems. For 9 out of the 10 systems, nitrogen use efficiency varied within the range 0.2 to 0.4 and phosphorous use efficiency ranged between 0.4 and 0.9. The system with the highest efficiencies (0.55 and 1.25 for nitrogen and phosphorous respectively) was characterized by significant export of nutrients as organic manures. The best performing farms (selected on the basis resource efficiency and economic performance) were calculated to be 18% lower in Nitrogen surplus relative to the system average (range -3% to - 56%, across the 10 farm systems). Biodiversity audits, conducted using the BIOTEX tool on 52 Pilot Farms in 10 countries, showed that the majority of farms had a positive impact on biodiversity. EuroDairy organised 14 cross border farmer visits - involving 10 countries, over 350 participants, 56 farms and 16 separate organisations.Visits provided an opportunity to share knowledge, assess the strengths and weaknesses of dairy production in the countries visited, and provide feedback of research and policy needs. Of the 43 Operational Groups recruited to the project, 28 were funded through regional Rural Development Programmes, and 15 were supported by other funding sources. Operational Group coordinators were brought together in a workshop to explore synergies between Operational Groups and Thematic Networks. Technical workshops brought together experts, advisors and farmers to share scientific and practice-based knowledge, and identify gaps to be addressed by future R&D. Four international workshops were organised on resource efficiency - the Dutch approach to closing nutrient cycles based on use of the ANCA tool; water use, particularly in southern regions of Europe; opportunities and challenges for grazing dairy cows in central Europe; and strategies to improve feed efficiency. Two workshops were organised to capture current knowledge, emerging thinking and relevant initiatives on biodiversity. Four cross border workshops were run under the theme of Animal Care - reducing antimicrobial use; practical welfare assessment; ‘Welfare plus’ probing new boundaries in animal welfare; and alternative housing systems for dairy cattle. Seven workshops were organized on Socio-economic resilience - ‘Lean management’ x 2; ‘Optimising the future value of milk’; Cost of production and future farming strategy. An important focus for the project was the development of resilient farming systems which sustain a smaller reduction in productivity as a result of a shock or disturbance, recover more quickly and more completely than a less resilient system. Resilience management was discussed in workshops in Flanders, in Normandy and during the final pan-European workshop, “Dairy Farming in a Changing world”, which took place in Brussels.
As output, EuroDairy produced 20 press releases and articles, 42 webinars, 22 technical leaflets, 41 practice-based abstracts, 9 video case studies /video magazines, one ‘legacy’ movie and over 30 further digital pieces. In addition, 16 individual reports covering technical subjects, research and development requirements and recommendations for policy makers can be found on the EuroDairy website. The impact of the project has been further amplified through the activities of individual partners, the majority of whom are in direct contact with farmers and other end-users. The project demonstrated the potential for the multi-actor approach to engage farmers, and to help them explore solutions which could be implemented on their own farms. The main constraint is frequently not the availability of technical information, but its customisation and translation into practice. Involving end-users and other actors along the innovation chain, is a more effective method of developing implementable, locally or system-adapted solutions. Through its participating Pilot Farmers, the project has shown that a combination of business acumen, focus on Key Performance Indicators, understanding the cost base in relation to the market available, and planning for volatility it is possible to have a more optimistic outlook on the future. Societal benefits accrue from greater resource efficiency, less environmental impact, maintenance of rural economies, confidence in better standards of animal welfare and the contribution dairy farming makes to biodiversity.
UK farmers exchange visit to Netherlands, April 2017
EuroDairy Pilot Farm, Slovenia, July 2016
EuroDairy at Knowledge Transfer Centre, Poisy, July 2017