The environmental costs and benefits of high-yield farming

Andrew Balmford (Corresponding Author), Tatsuya Amano, Harriet Bartlett, Dave Chadwick, Adrian Collins, David Edwards, Rob Field, Philip Garnsworthy, Rhys Green, Pete Smith, Helen Waters, Andrew Whitmore, Donald Broom, Julian Chara, Tom Finch, Emma Garnett, Alfred Gathorne-Hardy, Juan Hernandez-Medrano, Mario Herrero, Fangyuan Hua & 8 others Agnieszka Latawiec, Tom Misselbrook, Ben Phalan, Benno Simmons, Taro Takahashi, James Vause, Erasmus zu Ermgassen , Rowan Eisner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

21 Citations (Scopus)
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Abstract

How we manage farming and food systems to meet rising demand is pivotal to the future of biodiversity. Extensive field data suggest impacts on wild populations would be greatly reduced through boosting yields on existing farmland so as to spare remaining natural habitats. High-yield farming raises other concerns because expressed per unit area it can generate high levels of externalities such as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and nutrient losses. However, such metrics underestimate the overall impacts of lower-yield systems, so here we develop a framework that instead compares externality and land costs per unit production. Applying this to diverse datasets describing the externalities of four major farm sectors reveals that, rather than involving trade offs, the externality and land costs of alternative production systems can co-vary positively: per 5 unit production, land-efficient systems often produce lower externalities. For GHG emissions these associations become more strongly positive once forgone sequestration is included. Our conclusions are limited: remarkably few studies report externalities alongside yields; many important externalities and farming systems are not adequately measured; and realising the environmental benefits of high-yield systems typically requires additional measures to limit farmland expansion. However, applying our framework identifies several high yield/low externality systems, and more generally suggests that trade-offs among key cost metrics are not as ubiquitous as sometimes perceived.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)477-485
Number of pages9
JournalNature Sustainability
Volume1
Issue number9
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 14 Sep 2018

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farming systems
greenhouse gas emissions
agricultural land
ecosystem services
production technology
biodiversity
farms
nutrients
habitats

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Balmford, A., Amano, T., Bartlett, H., Chadwick, D., Collins, A., Edwards, D., ... Eisner, R. (2018). The environmental costs and benefits of high-yield farming. Nature Sustainability, 1(9), 477-485. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-018-0138-5

The environmental costs and benefits of high-yield farming. / Balmford, Andrew (Corresponding Author); Amano, Tatsuya; Bartlett, Harriet; Chadwick, Dave; Collins, Adrian; Edwards, David; Field, Rob; Garnsworthy, Philip; Green, Rhys; Smith, Pete; Waters, Helen; Whitmore, Andrew; Broom, Donald; Chara, Julian; Finch, Tom; Garnett, Emma; Gathorne-Hardy, Alfred; Hernandez-Medrano, Juan; Herrero, Mario ; Hua, Fangyuan; Latawiec, Agnieszka; Misselbrook, Tom; Phalan, Ben; Simmons, Benno; Takahashi, Taro; Vause, James; zu Ermgassen , Erasmus; Eisner, Rowan.

In: Nature Sustainability, Vol. 1, No. 9, 14.09.2018, p. 477-485.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Balmford, A, Amano, T, Bartlett, H, Chadwick, D, Collins, A, Edwards, D, Field, R, Garnsworthy, P, Green, R, Smith, P, Waters, H, Whitmore, A, Broom, D, Chara, J, Finch, T, Garnett, E, Gathorne-Hardy, A, Hernandez-Medrano, J, Herrero, M, Hua, F, Latawiec, A, Misselbrook, T, Phalan, B, Simmons, B, Takahashi, T, Vause, J, zu Ermgassen , E & Eisner, R 2018, 'The environmental costs and benefits of high-yield farming', Nature Sustainability, vol. 1, no. 9, pp. 477-485. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-018-0138-5
Balmford A, Amano T, Bartlett H, Chadwick D, Collins A, Edwards D et al. The environmental costs and benefits of high-yield farming. Nature Sustainability. 2018 Sep 14;1(9):477-485. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-018-0138-5
Balmford, Andrew ; Amano, Tatsuya ; Bartlett, Harriet ; Chadwick, Dave ; Collins, Adrian ; Edwards, David ; Field, Rob ; Garnsworthy, Philip ; Green, Rhys ; Smith, Pete ; Waters, Helen ; Whitmore, Andrew ; Broom, Donald ; Chara, Julian ; Finch, Tom ; Garnett, Emma ; Gathorne-Hardy, Alfred ; Hernandez-Medrano, Juan ; Herrero, Mario ; Hua, Fangyuan ; Latawiec, Agnieszka ; Misselbrook, Tom ; Phalan, Ben ; Simmons, Benno ; Takahashi, Taro ; Vause, James ; zu Ermgassen , Erasmus ; Eisner, Rowan. / The environmental costs and benefits of high-yield farming. In: Nature Sustainability. 2018 ; Vol. 1, No. 9. pp. 477-485.
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abstract = "How we manage farming and food systems to meet rising demand is pivotal to the future of biodiversity. Extensive field data suggest impacts on wild populations would be greatly reduced through boosting yields on existing farmland so as to spare remaining natural habitats. High-yield farming raises other concerns because expressed per unit area it can generate high levels of externalities such as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and nutrient losses. However, such metrics underestimate the overall impacts of lower-yield systems, so here we develop a framework that instead compares externality and land costs per unit production. Applying this to diverse datasets describing the externalities of four major farm sectors reveals that, rather than involving trade offs, the externality and land costs of alternative production systems can co-vary positively: per 5 unit production, land-efficient systems often produce lower externalities. For GHG emissions these associations become more strongly positive once forgone sequestration is included. Our conclusions are limited: remarkably few studies report externalities alongside yields; many important externalities and farming systems are not adequately measured; and realising the environmental benefits of high-yield systems typically requires additional measures to limit farmland expansion. However, applying our framework identifies several high yield/low externality systems, and more generally suggests that trade-offs among key cost metrics are not as ubiquitous as sometimes perceived.",
author = "Andrew Balmford and Tatsuya Amano and Harriet Bartlett and Dave Chadwick and Adrian Collins and David Edwards and Rob Field and Philip Garnsworthy and Rhys Green and Pete Smith and Helen Waters and Andrew Whitmore and Donald Broom and Julian Chara and Tom Finch and Emma Garnett and Alfred Gathorne-Hardy and Juan Hernandez-Medrano and Mario Herrero and Fangyuan Hua and Agnieszka Latawiec and Tom Misselbrook and Ben Phalan and Benno Simmons and Taro Takahashi and James Vause and {zu Ermgassen}, Erasmus and Rowan Eisner",
note = "Author Correction: The environmental costs and benefits of high-yield farming (Nature Sustainability, (2018), 1, 9, (477-485), 10.1038/s41893-018-0138-5) We are grateful for funding from the Cambridge Conservation Initiative Collaborative Fund and Arcadia, the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, the Kenneth Miller Trust the UK-China Virtual Joint Centre for Agricultural Nitrogen (CINAg, BB/N013468/1, financed by the Newton Fund via BBSRC and NERC), BBSRC (BBS/E/C/000I0330), DEVIL (NE/M021327/1), U-GRASS (NE/M016900/1), Soils-R-GRREAT (NE/P019455/1), N-Circle (BB/N013484/1), BBSRC Soil to Nutrition (S2N) strategic programme (BBS/E/C/000I0330), UNAMPAPIIT ( IV200715), the Belmont Forum/FACEE-JPI (NE/M021327/1 ‘DEVIL’), and the Cambridge Earth System Science NERC DTP (NE/L002507/1); AB is supported by a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit award. We thank Frank Brendrup, Emma Caton, Achim Dobermann, Thiago Jose Florindo, Ellen Fonte, Ottoline Leyser, Andre Mazzetto, Jemima Murthwaite, Farahnaz Pashaei Kamali, Rafael Olea-Perez, Stephen Ramsden, Claudio Ruviaro, Jonathan Storkey, Bernardo Strassburg, Mark Topliff, Joao Nunes Vieira da Silva, David Williams, Xiaoyuan Yan and Yusheng Zhang for advice, data or analysis.",
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AU - Balmford, Andrew

AU - Amano, Tatsuya

AU - Bartlett, Harriet

AU - Chadwick, Dave

AU - Collins, Adrian

AU - Edwards, David

AU - Field, Rob

AU - Garnsworthy, Philip

AU - Green, Rhys

AU - Smith, Pete

AU - Waters, Helen

AU - Whitmore, Andrew

AU - Broom, Donald

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AU - Garnett, Emma

AU - Gathorne-Hardy, Alfred

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AU - Simmons, Benno

AU - Takahashi, Taro

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AU - zu Ermgassen , Erasmus

AU - Eisner, Rowan

N1 - Author Correction: The environmental costs and benefits of high-yield farming (Nature Sustainability, (2018), 1, 9, (477-485), 10.1038/s41893-018-0138-5) We are grateful for funding from the Cambridge Conservation Initiative Collaborative Fund and Arcadia, the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, the Kenneth Miller Trust the UK-China Virtual Joint Centre for Agricultural Nitrogen (CINAg, BB/N013468/1, financed by the Newton Fund via BBSRC and NERC), BBSRC (BBS/E/C/000I0330), DEVIL (NE/M021327/1), U-GRASS (NE/M016900/1), Soils-R-GRREAT (NE/P019455/1), N-Circle (BB/N013484/1), BBSRC Soil to Nutrition (S2N) strategic programme (BBS/E/C/000I0330), UNAMPAPIIT ( IV200715), the Belmont Forum/FACEE-JPI (NE/M021327/1 ‘DEVIL’), and the Cambridge Earth System Science NERC DTP (NE/L002507/1); AB is supported by a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit award. We thank Frank Brendrup, Emma Caton, Achim Dobermann, Thiago Jose Florindo, Ellen Fonte, Ottoline Leyser, Andre Mazzetto, Jemima Murthwaite, Farahnaz Pashaei Kamali, Rafael Olea-Perez, Stephen Ramsden, Claudio Ruviaro, Jonathan Storkey, Bernardo Strassburg, Mark Topliff, Joao Nunes Vieira da Silva, David Williams, Xiaoyuan Yan and Yusheng Zhang for advice, data or analysis.

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N2 - How we manage farming and food systems to meet rising demand is pivotal to the future of biodiversity. Extensive field data suggest impacts on wild populations would be greatly reduced through boosting yields on existing farmland so as to spare remaining natural habitats. High-yield farming raises other concerns because expressed per unit area it can generate high levels of externalities such as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and nutrient losses. However, such metrics underestimate the overall impacts of lower-yield systems, so here we develop a framework that instead compares externality and land costs per unit production. Applying this to diverse datasets describing the externalities of four major farm sectors reveals that, rather than involving trade offs, the externality and land costs of alternative production systems can co-vary positively: per 5 unit production, land-efficient systems often produce lower externalities. For GHG emissions these associations become more strongly positive once forgone sequestration is included. Our conclusions are limited: remarkably few studies report externalities alongside yields; many important externalities and farming systems are not adequately measured; and realising the environmental benefits of high-yield systems typically requires additional measures to limit farmland expansion. However, applying our framework identifies several high yield/low externality systems, and more generally suggests that trade-offs among key cost metrics are not as ubiquitous as sometimes perceived.

AB - How we manage farming and food systems to meet rising demand is pivotal to the future of biodiversity. Extensive field data suggest impacts on wild populations would be greatly reduced through boosting yields on existing farmland so as to spare remaining natural habitats. High-yield farming raises other concerns because expressed per unit area it can generate high levels of externalities such as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and nutrient losses. However, such metrics underestimate the overall impacts of lower-yield systems, so here we develop a framework that instead compares externality and land costs per unit production. Applying this to diverse datasets describing the externalities of four major farm sectors reveals that, rather than involving trade offs, the externality and land costs of alternative production systems can co-vary positively: per 5 unit production, land-efficient systems often produce lower externalities. For GHG emissions these associations become more strongly positive once forgone sequestration is included. Our conclusions are limited: remarkably few studies report externalities alongside yields; many important externalities and farming systems are not adequately measured; and realising the environmental benefits of high-yield systems typically requires additional measures to limit farmland expansion. However, applying our framework identifies several high yield/low externality systems, and more generally suggests that trade-offs among key cost metrics are not as ubiquitous as sometimes perceived.

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