Balancing biodiversity and agriculture: New MAGIC publication

01 August 2020
Food production
Dairy sector

A new study by the MAGIC team from Wageningen University explores conservation scenarios for the Dutch dairy sector. The objective of the study was to translate experts' narratives about biodiversity conservation into specific conservation scenarios, and assess the implications of these scenarios for food production and biodiversity, using dairy production in the Netherlands as a case study.

The case study comprised about 794,000 ha of agricultural land currently used for dairy production (45% of the Dutch agricultural area). This land is considered important for general farmland biodiversity and abundance of meadow birds. 

The scenarios reflected a targeted versus a generic approach towards conservation. In the targeted conservation (TC) scenario, extensive grassland, reduced drainage and delayed mowing were applied in core areas to enhance meadow bird abundance, whereas in the generic conservation (GC) scenario, networks of nature and extensive agriculture were created and no feed was imported, which required a change in local agricultural land use.

Subsequently, total feed and food (milk and meat) production and potential impacts on biodiversity were assessed, using the total energy and protein value for dairy, dairy productivity and the potentially disappeared fraction (PDF) of plant species richness. Land use changed on 6% of the case study area in the TC scenario, and 69 % in the GC scenario. Feed production per ha (net energy for lactation) was reduced by 3% for the TC and 41 % for the GC scenario. Food production on the case study area reduced to the same extent in TC, and to a larger extent (by about two thirds) in GC because no feed was imported. In consequence, biodiversity increased, thus reducing the PDF from 0.17 in the baseline scenario to 0.16 in the TC scenario and 0.10 in the GC scenario. In both scenarios, extensive grassland offset part of the loss in plant species richness caused by cropland and intensive grassland. Implementing these opposing scenarios requires different policy approaches or incentives for the dairy sector. However, judging whether measures are worth the expected benefits for biodiversity depends on stakeholders’ values.

In preparing the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy 2030, it is essential to unravel different visions about biodiversity conservation and understand the potential effects on other land uses (e.g., food production).