Agroscope’s research programme Indicate develops indicators for positive and negative farm environmental impacts. Recorded by means of new digital technologies, these metrics are intended to support farmers in easily identifying and optimising the ecological services of their farms.
Sustainable use of natural resources
Agriculture uses natural resources to supply the population with high-quality foods. The use of these resources causes trade-offs, and is not always sustainable, as shown e.g. by the shortfalls in achieving the Agricultural Environmental Targets. However, agriculture also provides positive environmental services, so-called ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration in the soil or the creation of habitats that increase biodiversity.
Complex environmental impacts and trade-offs
Nowadays it is difficult for farmers to record the positive and negative environmental impacts of their farms, since no informative and comparable metrics are available. In addition, the environmental impacts are heavily dependent on site conditions and production system, and there are trade-offs between e.g. protection of the environment and productivity.
In order for farmers to be able to take concrete measures to reconcile the ecological, economic and social sustainability of their farms, they must be aware of the environmental impacts and trade-offs of their possible courses of action. Furthermore, it is also important for stakeholders such as quality-label organisations, food processors /retailers, and agricultural policy-makers to know which indicators meaningfully illustrate the environmental impact of farms, to allow them to shape the framework conditions so as to optimally support the environmental targets.
Tools for optimising farm management
Agroscope’s research programme Indicate aims to develop a set of indicators for recording positive and negative environmental impacts on farms and for displaying trade-offs between the various environmental impacts. Case studies are also used to examine trade-offs between environmental impacts and further aspects of sustainability.
The indicators provide farmers with a tool allowing them to work in a resource-saving fashion, improve profitability and identify their ecological services, thanks to improved farm management. At the same time, the indicators are intended to support enforcement in agricultural policy.
Focus on priority environmental targets
The focus is on high-priority indicators for environmental impacts such as the promotion of biodiversity and soil quality, or nitrogen emissions. The indicators are geared to mixed arable and livestock farms in the plain region – a very common focus in Switzerland.
Easy-to-use, informative indicators
When developing the indicators, the following principles apply:
- Simplicity of use and intelligibility
- Minimal collection effort on farms through the use of up-to-date and robust data-collection technologies
- Usability for farm management
- High informative value in terms of the achievement of environmental targets
Integration into farm-management systems
Digital farm management information systems (FMIS’s) serve as a solution for data collection, processing and linkage. Thanks to the linkage of the indicators, these systems can be used to quickly analyse and highlight trade-offs and displacement effects.
Practicality thanks to Swiss Future Farm and commercial farms
The Swiss Future Farm in Tänikon, which evaluates the benefits and potentials of Smart Farming technologies, serves as a model farm. The environmental indicators are developed on the Swiss Future Farm, and then tested for applicability on further commercial farms.
The research programme comprises nine projects and will last four years from 2021.