Summary of the results of the BERAS 2003-2006

The BERAS 2003-2006 project addressed the need to analyse the environmental and socio-economic consequences of ecological recycling agriculture as well as the opportunities and obstacles facing the various actors in the food system, i.e. producers, processors, traders and consumers.

Studies of various aspects of the whole food system have been carried out with 20 partner institutions and more than 50 academic researchers in the 8 EU member states around the Baltic Sea: Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

The whole executive summary and the seven research reports are available here.

1. Nutrient losses are caused by intensification and specialization of agriculture

The main reason for the increased load of nitrogen and phosphorus from agriculture to the Baltic Sea is the specialization of agriculture with its separation of crop and animal production. This restructuring of the agricultural sector took place throughout the Scandinavian countries after World War II and has resulted in farms with a high density of animals and great surpluses of plant nutrients, particularly in certain regions in Sweden, Finland and Denmark.(WP2, BERAS report 2, IV).

2. Further intensification can increase pollution to the Baltic Sea

A specialization of agriculture in Poland and the Baltic states corresponding to the changes in Sweden, Finland and Denmark would lead to an increase of nitrogen pollution to the Baltic Sea by more than 50 percent (WP2, BERAS report 5,II).

3. Agriculture based on the principles of ecological recycling would lead to a decrease...

Agriculture based on the principles of ecological recycling would lead to a decrease in the calculated nitrogen leaching by half as well as a significant reduction in the loss of phosphorus.

Agriculture based on the principles of ecological recycling would, according to the results in the BERAS project, lead to a decrease in the calculated nitrogen leaching by half as well as a significant reduction in the loss of phosphorus. Ecological Recycling Agriculture (ERA-agriculture) was defined as an agriculture system based on local and renewable resources with an integration of animal and crop production (on each farm or farms in close proximity) so a large part of the nutrient uptake in the fodder production (in Europe on about 80 % of the arable land) is effectively recycled. This in effect means that each farm strives to be self-sufficient in fodder production which in turn limits animal density and ensures a more even distribution of animals to most farms (WP2, BERAS report 5, II).

4. Most potential for diminishing nitrogen losses in countries with intensive agriculture

Nitrogen losses would diminish more in the countries that today have an intensive agriculture than in the Baltic countries and Poland where today there is a more extensive form of agriculture. In Sweden the potential for diminishing nitrogen losses are calculated to be between 70 - 75% (WP2, BERAS report 5, II).

5. Ecological Recycling Agriculture does not mean decreased output of agricultural production

The total output of animal and crop products would not have to decrease with such an agriculture reform in the Baltic Sea Basin, if the production level on the documented ecological recycling farms in Sweden is taken as standard. (WP2, BERAS report 5, II).

6. Ecological Recycling Agriculture would increase grassland area

The proportion of leys in a future ecological recycling agriculture would increase in areas that are now mostly specialised in grain production. Leys with both clover and grass would have to be produced on all farms. This would increase the chances of diminishing plant nutrients’ leaching, building up and protecting the humus content in soil and promoting biological diversity (WP2, BERAS report 5, II).

7. Increased grassland means more beef

Increased ley production would result in the reallocation of meat production. Production of meat from non ruminant animal (poultry, pigs) would decrease by half, while beef production would increase correspondingly –assuming today’s level of meat consumption. (WP2, BERAS report 5, IX).

8. Local products decrease primary energy consumption and green house gas emissions

Local production, processing and distribution of food products from ecological recycling agriculture could diminish primary energy consumption and green house gas emissions compared to the current conventional food system. According to a scenario based on studies of the ecological local food chain in Järna and the average consumer in Sweden, the per capita consumption of primary energy would decrease by 40% and the production of green house gases would decrease by 20 % in the food chain (WP2, BERAS report 5, V, IX).

9. Increased plant product consumption decreases use of primary energy and...

Increased plant product consumption decreases use of primary energy and green house gas emissions.

A more vegetarian food consumption, (75% less meat and 100% more vegetables) could decrease energy consumption by 60% and green house gas emissions by 40 %, compared to Swedish conventional food consumption patterns. The area in Sweden required for food production would be reduced by 30% compared to today’s in-country production area and by 50% if the area used for production of imported fodder is also included. The per capita nitrogen surplus in Sweden would be reduced by 65% in this more vegetarian scenario when compared to today’s conventional food consumption. (WP2, BERAS report 5, V, IX).

10. Organic and local foods promote biodiversity in the farm landscape

An ecological and locally oriented food chain leads to freedom from chemical pesticides, greater diversity in the production and more grazing-based animal husbandry. All of this promotes biodiversity in the farm landscape (WP2, BERAS Report 5, VI). Agriculture based on the integration of animal and crop production and an animal density limited to on-farm self sufficiency in fodder production would prevent the disintegration of the agricultural landscape in parts of the Baltic Sea basin such as Poland where the agricultural landscape is still characterized by a high degree of diversity. In the parts of the Baltic States where large-scale agriculture production from Soviet times has collapsed and in the industrialized and grain dominated areas in Sweden, Finland and Denmark, introduction of such agriculture could lead to a restoration of the agricultural landscape (WP4, BERAS report 4).

11. Better environment means higher production and food costs

Economic studies at the farm level show higher production costs when environmental costs are included (internalized) in the production costs. This includes, among other things, the restrictions on using fodder concentrates. There is a 12% lower production per cow without soy protein. Also limiting the number of animals to the farms own fodder-producing capacity has economic consequences. In the Järna study the cost for milk production was 19% higher compared to conventional agriculture (0,5 - 0,6 SEK per kg milk).

The food expenditure for the 15 Järna households with mainly ecological and to a great extent locally produced food was on average 25% higher. However, there was great variation depending on the food profile. Conventionally produced food does not include the environmental costs. They are instead pushed towards the future or to other parts of the world (WP3, BERAS report 3).

12. Ecologically, economically and sociologically sustainable society provides more jobs

Practical examples of ecological recycling agriculture, local food processing, cooperation with schools, ecological tourism and the development of local markets have been documented in the eight countries of the project. The studies showed how private initiatives, raised awareness concerning the significance of the food chain for the environment and a more lively cooperation between people can contribute to a more ecologically, economically and sociologically sustainable society. Such a society provides more job opportunities in the countryside and strengthens the local rural economy. This is expected to be of great importance for saving and further developing a vibrant rural culture and improving the quality of life in the Baltic Sea region. Establishing such agriculture can have such positive effects both within the more impoverished rural areas in the new EU member countries as well as in the depopulated rural areas in countries with a more industrialized and specialized agriculture (WP4, BERAS report 6).

Did you know?

Clover and other leguminous species have the capacity to fix atmospheric nitrogen due to their symbiosis with rhizobium bacteria in their root nodules.

The nitrogen fixated in the soil functions as fertilizer for other crops in a crop rotation.

Fixation of nitrogen builds up the humus content in the soil which also has the advantage of reducing it as a greenhouse gas in the atmosphere