Achieving sustainable agriculture and livestock farming requires closing the nutrient cycle, which in turn demands measures in policy and practice. But what consequences can be expected from these measures? The Cycle Test developed by Wageningen UR provides insight into this issue and can help facilitate a more accurate and factual dialogue between stakeholders.
“The name ‘Cycle Test’ may be slightly misleading,” says Theun Vellinga of Wageningen UR Livestock Research, who developed the tool together with Ferry Leenstra. “It is not intended to approve or condemn anything, but instead acts as a (currently) qualitative ex-ante evaluation tool. The Cycle Test provides insight into the effectiveness and feasibility of measures for closing food cycles. We determine what will actually happen when a specific measure is taken; preferably in consultation with stakeholders.”
Faster, better solutions
These facts are important for stimulating the dialogue between various stakeholders, Vellinga explains. “Opinions as to which measures are best for closing cycles vary greatly. Governments, the animal feed industry, livestock farmers and environmental organisations may assess policy effects in different ways. With the results of the Cycle Test, however, these effects are no longer a matter of dispute. It provides factual information which can help the parties involved achieve better solutions together, faster.”
Discussions over the closing of cycles can quickly revolve around technical aspects such as ‘optimising processes’ or ‘better feed’. These debates are certainly useful, says Vellinga. “But it often involves improving parts of the cycle, while decisions made by individuals actually have the greatest impact. The various segments of the cycle come together via transport, trade and processing, and economic and ethical choices have to be made at the points where these segments meet. Having a greater insight into these ‘meeting points’ can reveal the big picture.”
Economic and social effects
Vellinga cites pig production as an example: “The province of North Brabant has many pig farmers, while the feed is partially produced in countries such as Brazil. One could speculate, for instance, whether it might not be better to farm the pigs in Brazil as well. Another option is purchasing the animal feed in the region or country where the pigs are being bred. We can indicate the effect of these choices on the nutrient cycle, while also looking at the economic and social impact.”
Not easier, but clearer
There are many other measures which could be evaluated, says Vellinga. “Consider a group of companies that wants to switch to organic agriculture or develop an approach to minimise food waste in company cafeterias. What would the measures involved mean for preserving nutrients in the cycle? The knowledge collected with the Cycle Test is essential for stimulating a proper dialogue. It may not make the debate easier, but it certainly makes it clearer.”
The Cycle Test was developed by Wageningen UR Livestock Research in cooperation with seven parties: the Province of North Brabant, Nevedi, Natuur en Milieu, the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, Brabantse Milieu Federatie and RIVM.