Crop-livestock integration is a theoretical ideal for sustainable agriculture. However, the number of European crop-livestock farms has decreased due to multiple factors (e.g. agricultural policies and work constraints). Crop-livestock integration beyond the farm level (e.g. through grain-manure exchanges) is a relevant option to address these limiting factors. However, this integration within farmer groups is challenging because it requires collective redesign to address organizational issues.
We developed a participatory approach that includes the serious game Dynamix to support the co-design of scenarios of crop-livestock integration among farms.
The approach consists of six steps: (1) initial group meeting to define the problem; (2) farmer interviews to identify motivations and collect technical and economic farm data; (3) scenario co-design meeting using the serious game Dynamix, including a spatially explicit board game and a simulation model; (4) multicriteria evaluation of these scenarios at the individual farm and group levels using the simulation model included in Dynamix; (5) group meeting to discuss the results; and (6) monitoring of selected scenario implementation. We applied this methodology with two groups of farmers in southwestern France.
Results and conclusions
In the two groups, crop farmers wanted to diversify their cropping systems and use manure to improve soil quality. Livestock farmers were interested in local and non-GMO feed for their animals. The scenario they selected included i) inserting cereal-legume mixtures into crop rotations on crop farms to be sold to livestock farms and ii) transferring manure from livestock farms to crop farms. In this scenario, the predicted overall gross margin increased more for livestock farmers (median = 29.90 €/ha) than for crop farmers (median = 6.60 €/ha). Nitrogen balance management was improved: crop farmers decreased their use of mineral fertilizer by 2.8–17.4 kg/ha/year; livestock farmers decreased their feed inputs improving local feed self-sufficiency. However, farmers' workload and management complexity increased, with 22–54 h of additional work per farmer per year. Compared to other scenarios, trade-offs between individual farm and group benefits resulted in greater local autonomy in inputs but lower autonomy in decision-making. In the two groups, discussions improved trust, which is a key ingredient for transitioning to integration beyond the farm level.
Our study is the first to use a standardized participatory approach based on a serious game to support the complex issue of crop-livestock integration beyond the farm level. Applying the approach to a case-study revealed its strong potential. It can easily be scaled-out to other agricultural contexts.
Farms that include crops and livestock are widely perceived as an ideal option to maintain agricultural production levels while limiting environmental impacts on soil and biodiversity (Franzluebbers et al., 2014; Hendrickson et al., 2008; Lemaire et al., 2014). However, globalized markets associated with policy incentives contributed to their decrease in number (Garrett et al., 2017), especially in Europe, due to limited availability of workforce and loss of skills (Ryschawy et al., 2013). Integration beyond the farm level could thus be a relevant alternative to address these limiting factors (Martin et al., 2016). It consists of reconnecting neighboring specialized farms through exchanges of grain, fodder, crop by-products and manure, or even by sharing land and other resources (e.g. workers, equipment).
Only a few crop-livestock integration initiatives beyond the farm level have been documented (de Wit et al., 2006; Regan et al., 2017; Ryschawy et al., 2019). Asai et al. (2018) compared worldwide case studies and identified a variety of barriers that restrict implementation of crop-livestock integration among farms. Operational barriers related to the availability of on-farm storage capacity and transportation, distance and legal aspects related to contracts and billing. Social barriers related to establishing trust and shared goals, and to the complexity of governance. Frequent meetings and communication among participants and a third party were deemed necessary to develop and maintain effective mediation (Cofr´e-Bravo et al., 2019). Thus, organizing highly coordinated groups of crop farmers and livestock farmers remains a challenge due to the high cost of coordination (Asai et al., 2018).
This study was the first to use a standardized participatory approach based on a serious game to support crop-livestock integration beyond the farm level, including implementation. The case-study application showed its potential for addressing this complex issue. The method can be easily scaled-out to other contexts and is already planned to be adapted to other cases of crop-livestock integration beyond farm level, including sheep-viticulture systems in France and California, cattle grazing cover crops in Scottland and biogas production in Denmark. Further developments will be needed to include permanent crops and biogas plants in the Dynamix serious game.