Indikatoren für die Flächen- und Nahrungsmittelkonkurrenz in der Schweizer Milchproduktion: Entwicklung und Test zweier Methoden

Zumwald, J; Nemecek, T; Ineichen Colantuoni, Sebastian Manuel; Reidy, Beat (2019). Indikatoren für die Flächen- und Nahrungsmittelkonkurrenz in der Schweizer Milchproduktion: Entwicklung und Test zweier Methoden Agroscope Science: Vol. 85. Zürich: Agroscope Liebefeld-Posieux ALP

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Indicators for Land and Food Competition in Swiss Dairy Production: Development and Test of Two Methods Cows and other ruminants are able to convert food sources not usable by humans, such as grassland forage, into human-edible food. If, however, animal feed is used which could also be consumed directly as food by humans, or which is produced on land which could otherwise be used to grow arable crops, we are then faced with competition between the growing of feed for milk production on the one hand and food for human nutrition on the other – so-called ‘feed-food competition’. To date, this issue has been largely ignored in sustainability assessments, even though a still-growing global population makes it essential for us to use limited arable land resources as efficiently as possible for food production. The ability to measure and strategically reduce feed-food competition between animals and humans is crucial for this efficient use. In this study, two indicators for determining feed-food competition in terms of energy and protein supply for human consumption were developed on behalf of WWF Switzerland, the Swiss milk processor Emmi, Swiss Milk Producers (SMP) and Central Swiss Milk Producers (ZMP), as well as with the financial support of the Foundation Sur-la-Croix, and applied to 25 dairy farms. The food-competition indicator answers the question "What is the contribution of milk production, in the form of milk and meat, to human protein and energy supply, compared to the feedstuffs used?” This indicator refers to the utilised feedstuffs, and describes their proportion of potentially human-digestible protein or energy in relation to their use for the production of milk and meat. By contrast, the land-competition indicator refers to the indirect competition for land use, and answers the question “To what extent could the direct production of foodstuffs on the land used for dairy production contribute to human protein and energy supply compared to dairy production?” This indicator refers to land use, and describes the food production potential in terms of the digestible protein or energy, which would be made available to humans. This potential is also compared to the effective food from dairy production on the land area used. Indicator values of 1 mean that the feed (food-competition indicator) or the arable potential (land-competition indicator) provides more human-digestible protein or energy than that yielded by dairy production in the form of milk and meat on the farm in question. Similarly, values of <1 mean a net contribution of milk production to the food supply. To our knowledge, this is the first study that combines both approaches. These indicators were implemented in such a way that they could be applied relatively easily to any Swiss dairy farm. The methodology for the two indicators was refined and adapted with respect to existing scientific studies. The list of the feedstuffs considered was substantially expanded, so that all feedstuffs catalogued in the Swiss feed database can now be taken into account. The yield potential of crops was based not only on the best crop, but also on an optimised crop rotation. The arable potential of the land was estimated in detail for Switzerland on the basis of available spatial information and farm data. In addition, protein quality was systematically taken into account. Both indicators were applied to 25 selected commercial farms. The farms studied do not constitute a representative sample of Swiss dairy farms. They differ according to region, production zone, milk yield, type of farm (organic, PEP) and the proportion of forage production on arable land. The farms are located on the Swiss Central Plateau and in the hill and mountain regions. For the food-competition indicator, the farms studied have values of between 0.01 and 0.54 for protein, and 0.03 and 0.68 for energy. This means that there is little direct competition with respect to the utilised feed, or that the milk-production system produces more protein or energy that can be utilised for human nutrition than was contained in the forage. The food-competition indicator values correlate strongly with the use of concentrates per unit of milk produced. For farms using very small amounts of concentrates or none at all, values stand at around zero. Farms which have low indicator values despite using a significant proportion of concentrates in their total ration are increasingly using by-products from food and feed production as feed, such as rapeseed cake, feed potatoes or brewer's spent grain. For the land-competition indicator, results range between 0.69 and 2.64 for protein, and 1.52 and 5.93 for energy. Only two farms have an indicator value of <1 (for protein). In most cases, growing arable food crops would contribute more to human nutrition than milk production on the land area used. The decisive factor for the indicator values of a farm is the arable area. This applies in particular to the farm’s own land, since in the majority of cases it accounts for most of the differences. The two farms with the lowest indicator values are in the mountain zone; 100% of their acreage was judged as unsuitable for arable farming. Where two farms have similar conditions in terms of their own utilised agricultural area, however, milk-production efficiency parameters (feed utilisation, restocking rate) play an important role. In addition to the land requirement per unit of milk produced, the quality (arability) of the land used is of major importance. The new land-competition indicator can supplement the land-occupation indicator frequently used in life cycle assessments, since it also represents the direct food-production potential based on the resource ‘utilised agricultural area’. The results of the studied farms cannot be extrapolated to Swiss milk production as a whole, since the sample investigated was too small and unrepresentative. Nevertheless, the results indicate that land competition between milk production and arable use for direct human consumption is stronger than feed-food competition. A comparison with foreign studies shows that the values for the farms in this study lie within a similar range. Owing to methodological differences, however, comparison is only possible to a limited extent; moreover, only one comparative study with two milk-production systems exists for the land-competition indicator. Both indicators show lower competition with regard to protein than with regard to energy. This is because in relation to human requirements, dairy products contribute more to protein consumption than to energy consumption, and because high losses occur when ruminants convert feed energy into animal products. In addition, the quality of the protein in the animal products is rated higher than that of the protein in the feed. The food-competition and land-competition indicators describe the same issue with a different focus, which is why they do not correlate with one another on the farms studied. Nevertheless, the combination of indicators helps to assess feed-food competition more thoroughly from two different perspectives, so that it is measurable as a whole. A farm which uses only small amounts of concentrates, but which uses arable land for forage production, has low food competition; by contrast, its land competition is high. Conversely, a farm that produces its forage on non-arable land, but which uses high amounts of concentrates, has low values for land competition, but higher ones for food competition. The indicators from the two approaches enable the objective representation of land and food competition in dairy production, and thus help to improve food security. In addition, the feed-food competition aspect can be incorporated into the assessment of overall sustainability.

Item Type:

Book (Further Contribution)


School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences HAFL > Resource-efficient agricultural production systems
School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences HAFL > Agriculture


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


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






Agroscope Science


Agroscope Liebefeld-Posieux ALP




Nadine Werndli

Date Deposited:

25 Sep 2019 10:37

Last Modified:

22 Jun 2022 10:57

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