Journal article Open Access

Balancing biodiversity and agriculture: Conservation scenarios for the Dutch dairy sector

Kok, A.; Oostvogels, V.J.; de Olde, E.M.; Ripoll-Bosch, R.

Biodiversity is declining and current strategies to halt biodiversity loss have not succeeded. In preparing the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy 2030, it is essential to unravel different visions about conservation targets for agriculture, and to understand potential trade-offs with food production. In this research, we translated the narratives of experts into two conservation scenarios on a case study area resembling the Dutch dairy sector. The scenarios reflected a targeted versus a generic approach towards conservation. In the targeted conservation (TC) scenario, extensive grassland, reduced drainage and delayed mowing were applied in core areas to enhance meadow bird abundance, whereas in the generic conservation (GC) scenario, networks of nature and extensive agriculture were created and no feed was imported, which required a change in local agricultural land use. Subsequently, total feed and food (milk and meat) production and potential impacts on biodiversity were assessed, using the total energy and protein value for dairy, dairy productivity and the potentially disappeared fraction (PDF) of plant species richness. Land use changed on 6% of the case study area in the TC scenario, and 69 % in the GC scenario. Feed production per ha (net energy for lactation) was reduced by 3% for the TC and 41 % for the GC scenario. Food production on the case study area reduced to the same extent in TC, and to a larger extent (by about two thirds) in GC because no feed was imported. In consequence, biodiversity increased, thus reducing the PDF from 0.17 in the baseline scenario to 0.16 in the TC scenario and 0.10 in the GC scenario. In both scenarios, extensive grassland offset part of the loss in plant species richness caused by cropland and intensive grassland. Implementing these opposing scenarios requires different policy approaches or incentives for the dairy sector. Moreover, judging whether measures are worth the expected benefits for biodiversity depends on stakeholders’ values. Lastly, potential displacement of food production and associated impact on biodiversity needs to be considered.

This work has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under grant agreement No. 689669. The present work reflects only the authors' views and the Funding Agency cannot be held responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains. The authors thank the interviewees for contributing to this work.
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