Feed-food and land use competition of lowland and mountain dairy cow farms

Ineichen Colantuoni, Sebastian Manuel; Zumwald, Joséphine; Nemecek, Thomas; Reidy, Beat (2023). Feed-food and land use competition of lowland and mountain dairy cow farms animal, 17(12), p. 101028. Elsevier 10.1016/j.animal.2023.101028

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Dairy cows and other ruminants contribute to human nutrition as they are able to convert feed components containing human inedible fibre concentrations (e.g. roughage and by-products from the food processing industry) into valuable animal-sourced food. A number of crops often fed to dairy cows (e.g. soy or cereals) are however potentially edible by humans too. Additionally, land used to grow dairy cattle feed on may compete with crop production for human consumption. Two different methods to assess the competition between feed consumption of dairy cows and human food supply were thus refined and tested on 25 Swiss dairy farms. With respect to the potential human edibility of the feeds used in dairy production, the human edible feed conversion ratio (eFCR) was applied. The land use ratio (LUR) was used to relate the food production potential, per area of land utilized, with the dairy production output. Low to medium eFCR, with values ranging from 0.02 to 0.68 were found, as an average proportion of 0.74 of total DM intake consisted of roughage. In contrast, we found relatively high LUR (0.69 to 5.93) for most farms. If the land area used to produce feed for cows was used for crop production (applying a crop rotation), 23 of the 25 farms could have produced more edible protein and all farms more human edible energy. Indicator values strongly depend on the underlying scenarios, such as the human edible proportion of feeds or the suitability of land and climate for crop production. Reducing the amount of human edible feeds in dairy farming by feeding by-products from the food processing industry and improving forage quality may be suitable strategies to reduce eFCR, but relying on low-opportunity cost feeds may restrict milk performance level per cow. On farm level, improving overall efficiency and therefore using less land (especially area suitable for crop production) per kg product decreases LUR. However, the most promising strategy to mitigate land use competition may be to localize dairy production to land areas not suitable for crop production. Both methods (eFCR and LUR) should be used in parallel. They offer an opportunity to holistically evaluate the net contribution of dairy production to the human food supply under different environmental conditions and stress the importance of production systems well suited to specific farm site characteristics.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences HAFL
School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences HAFL > Agriculture
School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences HAFL > Agriculture > Grasslands and Ruminant Production Systems


Ineichen Colantuoni, Sebastian Manuel0000-0002-8461-9825;
Zumwald, Joséphine;
Nemecek, Thomas and
Reidy, Beat0000-0002-8619-0209


S Agriculture > S Agriculture (General)
S Agriculture > SF Animal culture








Sebastian Manuel Ineichen Colantuoni

Date Deposited:

01 Dec 2023 09:00

Last Modified:

03 Dec 2023 01:38

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

net human food supply, human edible feed conversion ratio, land use ratio, grassland, life cycle assessment





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