Assessment of reduction in environmental burdens through targeted measures compared with whole farm approaches in cropping and livestock systems

This project is funded by Defra and was undertaken over 2.5 years, starting in April 2007. The aim of the project was to assess how targeted measures compare with whole farm approaches in reducing environmental burdens and to devise and to develop an innovative environmental management system that would be effective at achieving those desired environmental outcomes.

A comprehensive review and critique of the whole farm and targeted systems currently available was undertaken to identify the main scientific evidence base for the comparison work. Part of this review evaluated the current assurance schemes in place in the UK and Europe and fed into work being undertaken by Defra's Sustainable Farming and Food Division.

The causal mechanisms by which different approaches can influence environmental outcomes were identified taking both a 'top-down' (activities > effects > impacts) and 'bottom-up' (outcomes > causes > activities) approach to develop a database of linkages between activities, effects and outcomes. This database is known is the Activity Effect Outcome (AEO) database and can be viewed online.

Using this knowledge the various systems were reviewed and their likely effectiveness at influencing environmental outcomes was assessed using a scoring and ranking approach specifically for this purpose. This allowed the relative/likely effectiveness of targeted versus whole farm approaches to be evaluated. The information gained and the lessons learnt from this approach have enabled the development of an innovative environmental management system that encapsulates the attributes that are most likely to be effective in bringing about positive environmental outcomes. An underlying philosophy of this system was to not duplicate what is already in existence and to integrate with existing systems, hence it focuses on what schemes and initiatives are farm is already member of in order to ascertain some of the practices that are being undertaken on the farm. The prototype system is known as OASys (Outcomes from Agricultural Systems) and is available online - click here to visit OASys.

The project has provided a valuable insight into the strengths and weaknesses of whole farm approaches compared to targeted measures. This is helping inform Defra policy and public debate about sustainable farming.


Dr John Tzilivakis


University of Hertfordshire
© University of Hertfordshire, 2017