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iSAGE Report Summary

Project ID: 679302
Funded under: H2020-EU.3.2.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - iSAGE (Innovation for Sustainable Sheep and Goat Production in Europe)

Reporting period: 2016-03-01 to 2017-08-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

In marginal areas in Europe, sheep and goats are the most common form of traditional livestock farming. Sheep and goat farming is important because it helps keep natural resources healthy and utilises land that cannot otherwise be used to produce products for human consumption. Sheep and goat industries, however, have many challenges causing farmers to leave. The consumption of sheep and goat meat in Europe is declining, the climate and prices are fluctuating more and many farms rely on subsidies to survive. iSAGE is finding ways to make the EU sheep and goat sectors sustainable regardless of these sustainability issues.

Why is it important for society
Sheep and goat farming in Europe is often the main industry for many isolated parts of Europe and supports local communities and infrastructure and keeps natural resources healthy. Therefore, these communicates rely on sheep and goats which have important cultural heritage. For the wider society, the availability of local produced sheep and goat products relies on maintaining sheep and goat production in Europe. Society will also benefit from sheep and goat products that are high quality, produced with better animal welfare standards and processed the ways that the consumer prefers.

Overall objectives
iSAGE is making sheep and goat sectors in Europe more sustainable by making farms more profitable, increase society's acceptance of sheep and goats and improving natural resources. iSAGE industry partners are work closely with researchers to assess how sustainable EU sheep and goat sectors are. These assessments are identifying the biggest problems, challenges and opportunities to make sheep and goat products competitive with other animal products. Additionally, assessing the attitudes of the consumer and society to the EU sheep and goat sector assists in re-designing sheep and goat products (meat and milk). iSAGE are providing solutions for the industry including changing the design and management of farms and the way that sheep and goats are bred. These solutions are being packaged and shared with the sheep and goat industries. Finally, iSAGE will also inform policies to increase the efficiency of European sheep and goat production and set a standard that can be followed to create a balanced EU industry.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

iSAGE has assessed 115 out of 239 farms across the iSAGE farm typology. The iSAGE farm typology represents for sheep and goat farms in Europe with five farm types. The assessment of farms was done with the most important indicators identified by research and industry representatives from the iSAGE consortium. The assessment the sustainability of sheep and goat farms covers environmental, economic, social wellbeing and good governance. Additionally, interviews with 33 sheep and 14 goat farmers identified that improvement of the market for sheep and goat products is the most common priority for farmers. Additionally, on-farm diversification, in particular processing and direct selling, seem to represent a valuable source of income for most farmers, helping them to continue the agricultural production activity.

The threats and opportunities from climate change on sheep and goat farms were identified using a review of literature. This review and a meta analysis of effects of climate change on pastures found climate change will increase plant growth in many parts of Europe but with more variation across years.

To find solutions for these challenges, the iSAGE consortium identified important innovations that can potentially improve the economic, environmental and social sustainability of farms. Protocols to test these innovations have been written and case studies on farms have started. Additionally, to identify potentially important innovations efficiency of 60 dairy and 119 meat sheep and goat farms were identified. There is high variation in farm efficiency suggests many farms can optimise how they manage their resources. Additionally, efficient farms have less animals, produce more milk. use less labour and produce more feed on their farms. Furthermore, breeding solutions for farmers have started to be identified through phenotypic and genetic analyses that will identify and characterise novel animal traits relevant to resilience and adaptability.

Consumers awareness, attitudes, needs and preferences towards livestock-based food products (meat, dairy) and overall consumer acceptance of goat and sheep products were recorded using focus group and laddering interviews. Consumers perceive sheep and goat dairy and meat products as specialty goods, usually not suitable for regular daily consumption, but reserved for special occasions. In general, there is a low product knowledge of these products, especially among the younger respondents, and this is partially explained by limited availability and familiarity.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

The tool developed to assess the sustainability of sheep and goat farms is novel because it provides thorough and flexible assessments of a sector that has rarely been investigated. Identifying the sustainability of diverse farm types is identifing systems, management and innovation that increase farm profitability, help develop future strategies for further improvement of farming business and the overall quality of farmer's ’life. The priorities for improving farm/livestock management, technical issues, socio-economics, market and supply chain and policy were identified in farmer interviews and will be further explored using current farmer surveys.
Increased consumption of sheep and goats products are expected from consumers willingness to pay and consume goat and sheep food products (meat, dairy), assessment of retailers attitudes towards sheep and goat products and innovative approaches to goat and sheep supply chains.
The potential impacts of climate change on small ruminants production systems in Europe potential adaptation measures have been reviewed. The effects of climate change on pastures in Europe have been analysed and effects on animals will be assessed. These effects will help make farms resilience to climate change and improve animal welfare.
Testing how innovation affects the economic, animal welfare, social and environmental sustainability of farms using case studies and farm modelling. Guidelines will be provided to sheep and goat sectors about how to make farms easier to manage, more profitable, improve welfare of animals and reduce environmental impacts. Sustainable farms will encourage more young farmers into the industry and their return into isolated regions impacting on local economies.
Breeding solutions including resilience traits into breeding strategies and the utility of local breeds will improve the efficiency and profitability of sheep and goat farms. Practical recommendations and guidelines will enhance animal resilience and adaptability which will improve their health and welfare, boost consumer confidence and acceptance, promote the utility of local resources and underpin social well-being. All of this research is using a multi-actor approach between industry and research will make guidelines and recommendations relevant to EU sheep and goat sectors.

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