Currently, society awareness, legislations and competing markets demand dairy farming systems which are sustainable. In the near future, farm management and animal genetics will be key elements in developing such sustainability. Although the effect of farm management on some attributes of sustainability has already been studied, the impacts and scope for realizing goals of agricultural multifunctionality through genetic changes are still to be tested. Sustainable and Integrated Management Systems for Dairy Production (SIMSDAIRY) is a new farm level modelling framework which integrates these concepts to practical actions and brings all of this complexity into an operational and scientific modus operandi.
The current paper provides a brief description of the structure of SIMSDAIRY and an example of how it can be used to compare the scope for improving the overall sustainability of a dairy farm by: (i) future system changes aimed at improving genetic characteristics of plants and animals with (ii) current system structural changes aimed at improving nutrient management efficiency. In order to do this comparison, management factors and new genetic traits from plants or/and animals, acting singly or in combination, are evaluated against a baseline dairy farm scenario. Sustainability is measured in terms of targets associated with: (i) the Nitrates Directive, (ii) phosphorus (P) threshold for eutrophication, (iii) the Kyoto Protocol, (iv) the Gothenburg Protocol, (v) an adequate net farm income for standard of living and acceptable standards of (vi) quality of milk, (vii) animal welfare, (viii) level of biodiversity, (ix) landscape aesthetics and (x) soil quality.
Results suggest that genetic-based changes offer greater scope than management-based ones to improve sustainability up to an acceptable level. Costs associated with management changes are often too high within current socio-economics circumstances. Optimizing nitrogen (N) mineral fertilizer rate and timing was the only management-based measure that, while improving most of the environmental and biodiversity indices, resulted in improved economic results. Some genetic-based changes offered substantial scope for reducing environmental losses while having economic benefits. However, only those decreasing the crude protein (CP) of the plant and increasing the diet N cow partition into milk seemed to result in non-significant pollution swapping and be achievable in the nearby future.