Farms and farming systems in North and Western Europe are generally highly specialised, with little integration between crop and livestock production within farms and between farms within a region. Yet, improved integration, be it at farm or landscape level, offers substantial potential for enhanced circularity of utilization of biomass, especially for co-products (e.g. residues, manure, waste). The main objective of this research project is to co-design locally improved, innovative circular crop and livestock systems in North and Western Europe. To reach this objective, MI BICYCLE assesses alternative utility options of biomass and co-products in integrated crop-livestock systems at field, farm and landscape levels.
Alternatives will be assessed in terms of nutrient cycling, greenhouse gas emissions, carbon sequestration and agricultural productivity. It is hypothesized that co-product utilisation options can be identified that are beneficial in terms of climate change mitigation and lead to more resilient and adapted systems. We will apply our systems approach and participatory and quantitative methods in four European case study regions situated in the Netherlands, Denmark, Scotland and France. All four case regions are characterised by highly specialized crop and livestock farming systems, with innovation and transition pathways towards integration of crop and livestock production being initiated. We expect these pathways to benefit from a systematic, science-based and participatory assessment of current and alternative utilisation options of co-products across crop and livestock activities and farms, in a landscape context.
The project takes a systems perspective, distinguishing activity (field and livestock units), on- and inter-farm integration and landscape levels. Using focus group discussions, current and alternative co-product utilisation options will be gathered for each of the case studies. These will be quantitatively assessed in terms of nutrient cycling, greenhouse gas emissions, carbon sequestration and productivity. Using literature and participatory inputs we will add semi-quantitative assessments of social and economic performance of utilisation options. The environmental, economic and social indicators will be brought together in a management guide for on- and inter-farm integration. Finally, a serious game will be developed to explore opportunities for enhanced circularity of crop-livestock integration and co-product utilisation at landscape level. Farming, agricultural and circular economy stakeholders (e.g. renewable energy, green fertilisers, etc.) will be employing the game to understand promises, lock-ins and ways forward. The serious game will also be adapted for use in BSc and MSc level courses in the four countries to enhance learning on circularity of future generations of scientists and stakeholders.
Figure 1: Map indicating the locations of the case-study areas in the Netherlands, Denmark, Scotland and France against a background of the percentage of mixed farms with both crops and livestock. Eurostat data were extracted from the ef_m_farmleg dataset with the “Eurostat” package in R software. Classification of specialised and mixed farms followed definitions in Schut et al. (2021).
WP1: Framework for circular systems analysis and data management
For every case study region, a poster has been created to map the current situation and provide a conceptual overview of the main agricultural characteristics in each region. Besides, main agricultural challenges were summarised and form the basis of all project activities. The next WP1 deliverable that is coming up is a schematic delineation of the agricultural system, forming the basis of the analysis in WP2.
Figure 2: Conceptual map of the region Drenthe, the Netherlands, with main farm types and landscape characteristics, part of the posters in WP1. 1&2) Dairy farm; 3) poultry farm; 4) pig farm; 5&6) arable farm. Green areas indicate forest; purple area indicates heathland.
WP2: Environmental assessment of circularity options of co-products
Using a modelling approach, future co-product management scenarios will be evaluated on environmental and productivity performance. A list of potential indicators was compiled and a start has been made with describing the methodology to quantify each indicator. The chosen method uses relatively simple equations and requires not much data, which enables to apply the approach to multiple European regions. The methodology for the first three indicators (crop production, energy consumption, and N2O emission) has been implemented in a model and can be quantified for the current situation in each case study area. A first round of data collection by the partners in all four case study areas has started and enables the quantification of these three indicators. The first results will be discussed among the partners and used to improve the model before continuing with more indicators.
WP3: Exploring co-product management options in the context of within or between farm crop-livestock integration
A start has been made with reviewing literature, and is soon to be finshed. Many different co-product types exist and their usage varies from region to region. The variety of current practices will be captured in this work package’s deliverables.
WP4: A serious game to explore synergies at the landscape level to enhance circularity
A working document has been finished in which current available tools and methods to analyse circularity at landscape levels were reviewed. The included papers represented a diversity of approaches to consider circularity all over the world. Various circularity options were explored considering either agricultural practices or waste recycling, with a focus on crop residues, manure and food industry waste. Most of the currently available studies focus on quantitative assessment of current fluxes. Examples are Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) (implemened at different spatial scales) and material or nutrient substance flow analysis. Despite referring to “landscape scale” in their paper, very few studies reviewed were actually spatially explicit, e.g. considering maps to assess the circularity options. Similarly, few of the reviewed studies involved stakeholders and their decision-making processes in the system assessed or modelled.
These insights are now used in the development of a serious game. The game is still under development, frequently using test sessions with the project partners. A finished version can be expected in the last year of the project and will be applied in a teaching environment to bring across the ins and outs of circularity at landscape scale.
Figure 3: Group picture of the Mi Bicycle partners which were present at the annual meeting in Aarhus (2022)
Prof Martin van Ittersum - Wageningen University, The Netherlands
- DENMARK: Aarhus University, AU
- UNITED KINGDOM: Scotland's Rural College, SRUC
- FRANCE: French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment, INRAE - Ariege Chamber of Agriculture
- The MI BICYCLE project starts on 1 March 2022 and runs until 28 February 2025.
- Introduction meeting December 2021
- Collaboration and biomass circularity at landscape scale potentially lowers greenhouse gas emissions and nitrogen losses