A digital application that can help farmers reduce the environmental impact of livestock and mixed-crop production has been developed and French farmers are currently availing of it.

The application uses specific data, collected on-farm, to provide cattle, goat and sheep farmers with recommendations to reduce their environmental impact, according to a European Commission spokesperson.

Livestock-production systems, particularly involving ruminants, are at the centre of the conversation about the environmental footprint made by agriculture.

This has led the sector to search for more environmentally and animal friendly production methods, which also allow for the improvement of the economic and social aspects of livestock farming, the commission spokesperson explained.

Digital tech

At the same time, an increasing number of digital technologies and data-based solutions are becoming available for the farming sector in the EU to enable farmers to work more precisely, efficiently, and sustainably, improving decision-making and farming practices, helping increase farm performance overall.

In France, Idele (Institut d’Elevage) has developed a data-based online application called CAP’2ER. Thirty sets of activity data are entered into the programme to determine agro-ecological indicators.

These data are divided into five categories:

  • Livestock;
  • Manure management;
  • Fields;
  • Feed;
  • Energy consumption.

Examples of these include:

  • Total annual fuel consumption;
  • Animal productivity (fertility, growth, marketing age);
  • Feed purchased;
  • Manure quantities and management;
  • Number of trees and thickets (area of trees and bushes growing closely together), shrubs, hedges, grass strips, stone piles and stone walls, and water bodies on the farm.

From the analysis, the farmer receives an overview report and recommendations taking into account water and air quality; biodiversity; greenhouse gases; carbon sequestration capacity; and the amount of nutrients produced for human consumption.

The report visualises these aspects in understandable graphics and numbers. It compares each farm to reference values corresponding to the same production system.

Benoit Gavaland, a beef farmer in western France was enthusiastic about using the application: “Environmentally friendly and economically viable animal-husbandry techniques go hand in hand. By contributing to environmental protection, we also improve the economics of animal husbandry.”

Idele maintains and updates the programme, based on current data and feedback from a committee of agricultural organisations. The programme is made available for advisory services in France (who pay a licence fee), and Idele provides training to farmers, the commission spokesperson said.

Farm evaluations – the response

The application was tested in several European countries during the LIFE Beef Carbon and the LIFE Green Sheep projects. Today, it has already carried out 23,000 farm evaluations in France.

As an example, at the Pamplie dairy co-operative, 15 farmers have recently carried out the CAP’2ER evaluation for their dairy farms.

One of the farmers and president of the co-operative, Jean-Pierre Germain said:

“Farmers and the dairy industry are motivated to use this tool, not only because it helps improving the economic and environmental performance of the farms, but also looking to the future and the potential support for ecosystem services.”

A European version of the tool is now available, which uses a common methodology connected to national references. The tool is being translated into English.

The large uptake by farmers has highlighted the role of farm data in reducing the impact of farming on the environment.

Results have shown that the application helps farms to reduce from 6% to 15% of their greenhouse gas emissions. Recently, the tool has been certified by the French low carbon standard for certifying carbon reductions. Its application on farms rewards farmers for their efforts applying mitigation practices.