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The Lithuanian Dairy Farms Project

Concept for farming systems research

Troels Kristensen & John E. Hermansen, DIAS Introduction For more than 20 years the research group 'Farming Systems Unit' at DIAS has worked with livestock farming research based on studies on commercial farms as a key element. The focus of the research has changed over the years from investigating mainly how to increase productivity on dairy farms to investigating, at present, how to develop efficient and environmentally sound livestock production systems in general. This development is reflecting the expectations of the society, which puts a pressure on farmers to make them produce at competitive prices and at the same time to include environmental concern and aspects of animal health and welfare. The aims have been to describe production and environmental impact in different farming systems, to test ideas for the improvement and to develop decision tools for farmers and advisors. The approach is based on a respect for the individual farmer and his possibilities and motivation. Researching with farmers on issues that were identified as important through a participative process, in contrast to performing research on the farm that the researcher considers important and which the researcher happens to conduct on the farm. Concept for research The complexity of the farming system makes an interdisciplinary approach necessary. Case studies on private farms are in this respect a useful method giving all researchers the understanding of the actual way of farming. The elements used and the relation between them are illustrated in figure 1. The actual emphasis on the different elements may vary dependent on the character of the project, but studies on private farms as cases are the key element. The double arrow in figure 1 illustrates the researcher-farmer interaction, and some of the elements in the approach. Recordings takes place and a feedback is given as an immediate response based on the individual records or when farmers and their advisors are presented for more 'analysed' or interpreted results. This feedback serves several purposes. The researchers are getting wiser as regards real obstacles for improving the authentic system considered, the data are challenged/scrutinised soon after recording, a fact that minimises the risk of registration mistakes. The farmers get wiser, too, meaning that, to a higher degree, the production plan is actually considered in the light of available knowledge rather than being coincidental. A combination of case studies, models and experiments are elements in the process from farm results to general scientific biological knowledge, tools to farm management advise and decision aids.

P r iv a t e f a r m s

R e s e a rc h s t a t io n s

Ca ase C e -s tu ee rs s t ud di i

s gents E xF poer r im

E p id e m io k ea i d s D e clo i sgi i osn s tu d i e r

eg lsa f U dM v io kd li n ( rs e s roin ug rs cre e du- s e ty a ns dk a pbreor d u c t i o n )

S c i e n t if ic r e s u lt s : N e w k n o w le d g e , to o l s

Figure 1. Approach for farming systems research.

The farm as a system The systems approach basically consists of accepting the irreducible complexity of the system under study, of striving to understand the overall operation of the system and not only the mechanisms which are brought into play within it. It also involves identifying and obtaining the knowledge most useful for the manager (Beranger & Vissac, 1992).


adjustment Controlable factors

Production system


Buildings/machinery/workforce Uncontrolable factors products




Figure 2. A farm as a cybernetic system (Srensen & Kristensen, 1992).

Srensen & Kristensen (1992) have illustrated the livestock farm as a cybernetic system, as shown in figur 2. The farm consists of a production system and a management system. The different enterprises in the production system can be further divided into subsystem, typical organised in a hierarchy system. The production system can be modelled either as a farmsystem or as part of the farm. The production is controlled by a management system, meaning that the farm also can be seen as a human activity system, in line with the soft system approach (Bawden, 1991). The management system can be organised at different level, strategic long term planning and operative short term planning and control. Management in this context can be seen as running adjustment in the production system due to variation in uncontrollable factors. Some of the uncontrollable factors will not influence the production system directly, like climate, but indirectly, as change in regulations for agricultural production, new subsidies etc. This means that management often is a choice between different opportunities and not a definite solution. The interaction between the human activities (management) and the production system is essential in the farming system research. Looking at and understanding of production results is only meaningful, when both the actual production system and the management of the system are known. Figure 2 can be further developed by including different groups in the society, which are supposed to have interest and influence in the development of agriculture and the farming system. Kristensen & Halberg (1997) illustrated this as shown in figure 3.

Public authorities Environmentalists Advisors Conventional colleagues Organic colleagues

Scientists Farmer Decision System


controllable factors uncontrollable factors

Production System

products externalitites

Figure 3. A model of the farmer reflecting on the farms sustainability in light of the value systems and discourses in society (Kristensen & Halberg, 1997). The farmer does not develop his ways of farming and his production system isolated from the society surrounding the farm. Farmers reflect and react to changes both in surroundings and in the production systems in different way. Research using farming styles concept has demonstrated that the

farmers, though different, tend to group around certain value orientations (Noe, 1997). This way of understanding farming can be usefull in development of decision aids and set up of relevant production research. To give an idea about how the systems approach can be used to develop farming system is in figure 4 given an illustration of the elements that has to be taken into consideration when working with grassland planning and utilisation. It can not only be seen as a way of harvesting grass, but has at least to start with type of grassland, milk production in the herd and possibilities for supplement feeding. Also the balance between pasture used in the summer and amount of silage for the coming winter is important. Kristensen & Kristensen (1993) has, based on farm studies and an interdisciplinary approach, described a system to grassland planning and management.

Milk production Stocking rate Amount of silage Urea in milk Type of supplement

Crop rotation Grazing intensity Type of grassland Cutting regime

4 Knowledge at partial level 4 Tools at farmers level 4 Demonstration at farm level

Figure 4. Grassland planning

Figure 5 shows, how we used the farming system approach in investigating the development possibilities for organic farming in Denmark during the 90ties

The system approach to organic farming research

Farming practice
prototypes model

Results Knowledge
casestudies comparative analysis


Figure 5. The system approach to farming research (Mogensen & Kristensen, 2000) Some results obtained by the case studies are rather easy to generalise, through comparison with other cases and experimental data in the literature. Based on several cases of different system, like organic versus conventional farming, indoor versus pasture feeding, loose housing versus tied up systems it is meaningful to make comparative analysis, in order to highlight the systems in focus. Also, a valuable tool for the interpretation of farm results is models. Such models are used in two ways: First to calculate the expected production results, which should be obtained on the farms in focus, based on well accepted technical and biological knowledge and given the actual production conditions. Such simulated production may facilitate comparisons between farms with different production conditions. Secondly, a comparison of simulated results with the actual farm results will often lead to an understanding of the fact that some preconditions in the model are wrong. The model can then be improved in some cases, based on the recorded farm data, or the gap in knowledge identified by the comparison of modelled and recorded results may lead to the carrying out experiments directed towards the fulfilment of this gap. Prototyping is a way of developing new systems based on case studies, models and experimental data. The sustainability of the new system is judged from such theoretical work and the most promising is set up either at system orientated research stations or implemented on private farms. On private farm the implementation will often only be as part of the described system. Kristensen & Kristensen (1997) have given an example of this way of working with farm results. A particular case, where farm studies are extremely valuable is when the focus is on developing decision aids. No matter what unique biological information a decision support tool may include the value of the system depends on the farmer's possibilities and motivation for using it. This can only be evaluated in a co-operation between farmer, advisor and researcher. Srensen et al. (1985) has demonstrated this in developing a systematic management programme for calf rearing. Also the work by Hansen et al. (1997) in making a computer tool to planning of landuse and manure applica-

tion has benefited from an interaction between farmer, advisor and researchers with different background. From idea to results The idea and hypothesis for a research work makes it possible to choose the most relevant method. Farming system research is one opportunity as illustrated. This method is relevant when the objective, among others, are to describe and develop alternative farming systems to understand and explain the process of farming to develop management tools to understand and describe interaction between different elements at farm level, as herd soil

The system approach is most relevant when one or more of the elements in system is interacting. In more experimental research this information is often not realised as the experiments is set up in order to minimise this effect (Lockeretz & Boehncke, 1999). Setting up the most appropriate research project involves a serie of desions from idea to result. Some main elements in our tradition for on farm research are given in figure 6.


Areato debate Selection of farms

Farm Technician Localadviser Local vet . Scientist

Dataregistration - who , freqandhow

Controlof daily production

Data Computer Litterature Models

Data check -internal -external



Presentation - farmspecific (case) - general results

Introduction to research based on use of private farms

Figure 6. Elements in setting up on farm research and demonstration projects. Selection of farms Number of farms has to be seen in relation to the representation of the farms on the one hand and the possibility to get more specific information about the individual farm. There are no exact guidelines, but the described approach is not suitable for project that wants to work with a group of farms representing more common farming systems. As stated earlier the generalisation has to be done not only from the farm, but also as combination of analysis of farm data and modelling. In developing of new systems a number of 10 to 20 farms will form an acceptable balance between representation and detailed information about the individual farm. If more experimental work is done, 3 to 5 farms

representing the variation in some of the key factors are necessary. This will make it possible to make analysis across farms, like demonstrated by Kristensen & Aaes (1999). Type of production system If it is possible without making reduction in the purpose of the work it is very important that the actual production system is as simple as possible, in order to get the most exactly registration of the internal flow and use of resources. Type of management system and farmer Besides being useful from the subject in question it is important that the farmer and the employed at the farm is motivated for participating in the project. The farmer needs to have some time to participate in check of data and in the dialog about results and development. Dataregistration and control Data registration should as far as possible be carried out by skilled technicians, who are not involved in the farming practise and advise on the actual farm. The technicians has to be interdisciplinary in their work, meaning that they must be cable of doing registration on all subjects within a project, like herd feeding, live weight of animal, crop production and economic figures. Registrations like amount of fertiliser, time of harvest, have to be done by the farmer. For registration of some specifically activities the local advisor will often be very useful, like registration of veterinarian treatments.

SYSTEM ( strategic ) FARM machinery type size value land acreage type herd breed quota labour type

buildings type size value


TURNOVER (operational ) economic account FARM Import Concentrates Seeds Manure Vet. service Reproduction Animal Contractors (labour ) Crops /fields (date, amount ) -seed -manure -machine - irrigation - yield Groups /individual animals (date, amount ) - feed intake - vet. - reproduction - yield land technical account roughage manure Manure Milk Meat herd Export Crops

Figure 2. Illustration of the basis registration on pilot farms. - level and type of registration.

Figure 7. Basis registration - system and turnover Data can be divided into at least two types, system description and registration of turnover, as illustrated in figure 7. Registration of turn over can be seen as two types, internal flow like manure from

herd to crop, and external, like import of fertiliser. Some of the internal registration, like use of fertiliser to the different field, can be checked against the external flow over a period. Also true internal flows, like manure application to the different field can be check against the production in the herd estimated from feed intake registrations and amount of animal products produced. Data presentation. As a final part of the datacheck the preliminary results are presented for the farmer and other persons involved in the project. This will often be the first presentation. Farm report The result of the case study is shown in annual farm reports, where the result from the year in focus is presented and discussed. The discussion is done from an interdisciplinary view trying to understand results in the main enterprises together, and also trying to look at the development within the farm by comparing the results with earlier years. In figure 8, is an example of a farm report, from a project working with development of organic dairy production.

Figure 8. Farm report from developing of organic dairy production systems

Farm report for H-No. 40-4 Hanne og Vagn Borg Grdevej 24, Hodde 6862 Tistrup

Systems Description
Production History Stables Milk production Farm taken into possession 1970 Change to organic farming started 1991 and the farm had fully converted as of 1992 Loose housing system with slatted floor and cubicle houses for 165 cows Female breeding is stabled in part on deep litter beds, in part on slatted floor with cubicle houses SDM. Winter feeding system: Summer feeding system: Grass/clover silage and whole crop silage Grazing in regulated big pens and supplemented with fresh grass in stable Milk quota: 900,157 kg - 4.16% fat Delivers milk to ko-Mlk A/S (ecological milk company) Labour Soil Rotation principle 2 users and 2 farm-hands 155.2 ha (149.2 ha crop rotation). Soil 1, 3 and 4. App. 120 ha irrigated Barley (whole crop or maturity) with undersown grass/clover lay - grass/clover 2-3 years.


Figure 8 page2 Key figures for the latest 5 years Milk, kg ECM per cow (control) Crops, SFU per ha Acreage, ha per cow Theoretical self-sufficiency, % Gross margin, total, DKr 1,000 Net income, owner and finance, DKr 1,000 Annual results 1996/97 Production - Milk, kg ECM, delivered - Crops, SFU Nutrition balance - Nitrogen, kg N - Phosphorous, kg P - Energy use of herd, MJ Economy - Gross margin, DKr - Net income, owner and finance, DKK Total 930,722 698,955 18,225 970 2,214,000 2,214,000 1,733,979 Per ha (155.2 ha) 5,997 4,504 117 6 14,265 21,005 11,173 92/93 93/94 94/95 6.622 5,110 1.13 86 2,772 1,802 Per MPE (140.4 pcs) 6,629 4,978 1307 14 15,769 15,769 12,350 95/96 7,015 4,969 1.10 79 2,883 1,663 96/97 7,289 4,504 1.11 72 3,260 1,734 Per ECM 0.75 0.020 0.001 2.38 2.38 1.86

28 26 24 22 20 18 16 14

kg EKM

Ydelse, 24 u.e.k. Gennemsnit, kontroldagen

Arealfordeling mellem afgrder

Korn (helsd) 17% Kartofler 0,4% Korn (modenhed) 6% Grnbyg 3% Vedv. grs 4%

Klvergrs 70% Maj Juni Juli Aug. Sep. Okt. Nov. Dec. Jan. Feb. Mar. Apr.

18 16 14 12 10 8 6 4 2 0


Foderration - ker
Grdens gns. Kartofler Korn (modenhed) Ensilage og halm Korn (helsd) Grnbyg Klvergrs Rapskager, korn, hvedeklid og roepiller Vedv. grs 0 10


Frisk grs













Dec. Jan.


Mar. Apr.

70 80 hkg/a.e. pr. ha

Figure 8 page3

Comments to the farm report 1996/97

H-No. 40-4

Last year's production level of the farm's has been similar to that of former years. The farm has a relatively high concentration of animals (1.19 animal unit per ha), so it has been necessary to buy especially cereals to feed the animals. Another thing is that the farmer has purchased a 600 kW windmill placed near the farm. The electricity from the windmill is considered an ordinary production branch. The influence of the windmill on the economic result is described later in the section. Last year, a gross margin from the cash crop of DKr 361,511 was achieved. An area with vegetables contributed with more than half of that gross margin. In 1996 it was necessary to take a greater part of the cereal crops as whole crop and, at the same time, the area with grass/clover was larger than last year. Consequently, the area with cereal for maturity was only 9.1 ha, which reduced the gross margin to DKr 71,003 despite a high yield. Moreover, a high yield of whole crop was achieved, whereas the yield of grass/clover was considerably lower than that of last year, but still a little above the average for this group of dairy farms. The extent and size of the livestock has not changed substantially last year. The heifers transported were small despite a relatively high age at calving, and this is partly due to a low growth on stable (441 g per day). A number of small heifers died in the course of the year. The main reason was pneumonia because of a bad climate in the calf house. The feed ration for both cows and rearers consisted of a high share of roughage with a great part of fresh grass, which was sometimes brought in by a forage harvester. The amount of supplementary feed was rather constant, app. 5 SFU per cow per day. The winter roughage consisted of a little whole crop, but particularly of grass silage. The feeding efficiency of the cows was high like last year, even though feeding level was raised. The feeding efficiency of the rearers during the housing period was considerably improved compared with that of last year. The annual growth was satisfactory owing to a very high growth at pasture (743 g per day). For the second year, the growth when housed was low (537 g per day) due to a rather weak feeding and that was particularly detrimental to the growth of the heifers. During last year, the milk yield increased by 274 kg ECM. The yield though the year varied, decrease in August and September and a minor decrease in January. The slightly higher milk yield had as an effect that the income for milk per MPU increased as compared to last year. As the growth value of last year was maintained the total income increased. The costs of supplementary feed as well of roughage were reduced compared to last year. This year, the purchased supplementary feed was mainly conventional and that reduced the price. Due to lower costs to harvesting the roughage was less expensive this year. Totally seen this meant a better gross margin of DKr 1,257 per MPU. The total gross margin of the livestock increased this year by app. DKr 157,000, but as the gross margin of the cash crop was considerably lower than it was last year, the total gross margin from field and housing decreased by app. DKr 134,000. All the same, the farm's total gross margin increased by DKr 77,000. As already mentioned, a windmill was purchased and the income (DKK 234,691) from this activity - with a linear depreciation of 15 years - is included in the farm's total gross margin. After capacity costs and writings off the net income increased by DKr 71,000.

Figure 8 page4

Technical-economic main results 1996/97 Acreage Manure Irrigation Contractors Field ha ton/ha mm DKr/ha Cash crops Barley undersown Roughage Potatoes Whole crop Grass/clover+grass barley Permanent grass Total cash crops Herd Number of livestock Average weight (start/end) Turnover of animals Heifers born (no. of bull calves) Springing heifers (months at calving) Sold - for market - slaughter - dead Feed input, SFU - Concentrates - Grain and by-products - Milk etc. - Grass pellets - Fresh grass - Silage and hay - Straw I alt Yield - Milk, control, kg ECM / F% / P% - Growth, kg per animal - Feed efficiency, winter (SFU/kg growth) Income - Milk, dairy (95% delivered) - Milk, house hold, calves (5%) - Growth Costs - Feed - Concentrates incl. mineral mixture - Roughage - Veterinary, medicine - Miscellaneous Gross margin (cow + 0.94 heifer + 1.11 ha) 9.1 0.6 26.4 113.1 6.0 9.1 ha 21 0 26 25 0 37 0 54 88 0 1,206 4,000 1,068 531 0

H-No. 40-4 Yield Sales price/ Gross margin per ha costs DKr/ha 100 DKr/kg hkg+SFU 50 + 2 1.90 7,765 DKr/SFU 100 SFU 45 2.36 47 0.38 46 0.18 17 Roughage: 146.1 ha

Gross margin: DKr 71 003 Cows 140.4 565/565 Number 54 0 50 3 of kg 482 554 550 Heifers 131.7 265/265

Number of kg 65 41 (72) 54 560 (28.1) 0 5 469 6 75 Feed supply Purchase, % Area, ha 7 16 0.06 0.01 23% + 1,10 1.17 ha

441 1,308 19 1,493 2,135 12 5,408 7,289/4.21/3.37 27 93

37 109 42 1 961 422 27 1,599

231 (5.5) 21,221 890 1,962 (DKr3.20 /kg ECM)

4,319 1,101 338 368 17,947

(DKr 2.18/SFU) (DKr 0.22/SFU)

Comparative analysis Having data from several projects in the same concepts and over a time period makes it possible to make comparative analysis, with the aim of finding some general differences. In figure 9 is given results showing the N surplus at farm level in relation to production type and stockingrate within the system (Nielsen & Christensen, 2001) Figure 9. Level of N surplus on different types of farms and dependent on stockingrate

N surplus on private farms in Denmark


N-surp lus, kg N per ha

300 250 200 150 100 50 0 crop d airy p ig Liner (average)

1 00

2 00

3 00

M anure, k g N p er ha

Kristensen & Kristensen (1998) have used a combination of deceptive statistic analysis and herdmodelling in order to illustrate the differences between organic and conventional herd feeding and production.

Litteratur Bawden, R.J. 1991. Systems thinking and practice in agriculture . J Dairy Sci., 74, 2362-2373. Beranger, C., Vissac, B. 1992. A Holistic Approach to Livestock Farming Systems: Theoretical and methodological aspects. In Gibon A., Flamant J.C. (eds.): The study of livestock farming systems in a research and development framework. Proc. 2nd Int. Symp. on Livestock Farming Systems. Saragossa (Spain). EAAP Publ. No. 26 Wageningen. 149-196. Hansen, J.P., Kristensen, I.S. & Jensen, C.H., 1997. A computer programme as an interactive tool for planning manure allocation and feed supply on mixed organic dairy farms. Livestock farming systems. More than food production. Proceedings of the Fourth international symposium on livestock farming systems. EAAP publ. 89, 329-334 Kristensen, T. & Kristensen, I.S. 1993. Management of grass/clover continuosly grazed with dairy cows. 2. Management tools. Proc. The white clover meeting of the FAO sub-network on lowland pastures and foddercrops, rhus. 7 pp. Kristensen, I.S. & Kristensen, T. 1997. Animal production and nutrient balances on organic farming systems. Prototypes. In: Proceedings ENOF workshop Ressource use in organic farming. Ancona, Italy, 4-5 June. 21 pp. Kristensen, T. & Aaes, O. 1998. Suppleringsfoder til malkeker ved afgrsning i reguleret storfold. DJF Rapport Husdyrbrug, nr. 3, 39 pp. Kristensen, T. & Aaes, O. 1999. Interaction between level of contrate supplement, season and stage of lactation on performance of dairy cows on pasture. Acta Agri Scand, Sekt A. 49, 1-11. Kristensen, T. og Kristensen, E.S. 1998. Analysis and simulation modelling of the production in Danish organic and conventional dairy herds. Livestock Prod. Sci. 54, 1 55-65. Kristensen, E.S. & Halberg, N. 1997. A systems approach for assessing sustainability in livestock farms. EAAP Publication no. 89. 16-29. Lockeretz, W. & Boehncke, E. 1999. Agricultural systems research. Proc. Second NAHWOA Workshop. Mogensen, L. & Kristensen, T. 2000. Organic milk production in Denmark by using private farms for research. EAAP Publication no. 97. 96-101. Nielsen, A. & Christensen, J.O. 2001. Noe, E. 1997. Values and farming practices among Danish dairy farmers. Srensen, J.T. & Kristensen, E.S. 1992. Systemic Modelling: A Research Methodology in Livestock Farming. In: Global Appraisal of Livestock Farming Systems and Study on Their Organisational Levels: Concepts, Methodology and Results. CEC-Proceedings (in press). 45-57.

Srensen, J.T. & Blom, J.Y. & stergaard, V. 1985. Systematic management programme for calf rearing Development and analysis (In Danish). Beret. 583 Statens Husdyrbrugsforsg, Kbenhavn. 171 pp.