Agro-ecological Knowledge Hub




Swedish (and European) agriculture needs to move towards less environmentally impacting farming systems with a higher integration of livestock and crop production, and towards producing more crops for direct human consumption and less livestock. Considering this, a desired path for current livestock farms would be to instead of increasing animal numbers reach profitability by diversifying their productions towards including more crops for direct human consumption. There is no general shortage of cropland in Sweden limiting this development and there is certain, and potentially growing, consumer demand for Swedish plant based products. There are however a range of other challenges for diversified livestock production, including climatic restraints in the northern and highland areas, limited sales opportunities for e.g. legumes, lock-ins into current production systems, limited investment opportunities and lack of suitable crop-varieties and knowledge of how to grow them. The level of cooperation on the market is additionally low and many farmers trying new crops and alternative production systems face lack of information, isolation in decisions-making and struggle to find appropriate seeds and advising services. The Swedish case study aims to increase understanding of these limiting factors and how they can be overcome. Farms participating in the Swedish case study will hence begin testing paths for diversification of their milk and meat producing units by incorporating more crops for direct human consumption.

Key challenge

To diversify animal production units towards more crops for direct human consumption in order to reduce the climate impact of food production, improve outcomes for biodiversity, test strategies for diversification which are necessary for transformation to a food system which can be fitted within the planetary boundaries

Dilemma and case study research question

What are the challenges and possibilities  to diversify specialised livestock farms (conventional and organic) to include more crops for direct human consumption while simultaneously integrating more agro-ecological principles to enhance sustainability performance in an economically highly strained production sector? 

Potential barriers to be addressed: high investments (and hence debt) in current system and hence difficulty integrating new practices and lines of production, lack of knowledge about producing crops for direct human consumption, lack of availability of suitable seeds, climatic restraints in some parts of the country, strong tradition of animal farming particularly in some parts of the country, limited sales opportunities for some crops, in particular plant proteins such as legumes.

Key actors involved

  • Sales opportunities for crops for direct human consumption - Networks, companies and actors which can directly and indirectly increase sales opportunities for crops for direct human consumption, there among legumes and grains.
  • Food retail - The Swedish food retail market is highly concentrated with only three companies controlling over 90% of the market. Purchasing and procurement of these companies hence has large impact throughout the Swedish food system.
  • Farmers´ associations - The main association in Sweden, LRF, chiefly represents conventional farmers in Sweden and has two separate branches for meat and milk producers. It also has separate branches for crop and vegetable producers and cooperation across branches is limited. There is also one main association for organic farmers, Ekologiska lantbrukarna.
  • Sector organisations - There are sector organisations active within the Swedish food system both to promote the consumption of meat and plant-based foods. They are initiatives by other companies on the Swedish market and operate primarily towards industry actors and consumers and do not directly represent farmers.
  • Advisors - Advisor services are provided by a range of actors, including government authorities, farmers´associations, private companies and NGOs. Some work mainly directly with farmers while others work to e.g. promote the use of certain products in public kitchens.
  • NGOs - The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation and WWF are the two largest environmental NGOs active in Sweden. Both have separate departments working specifically with food and agriculture, however most often towards policy makers, industry and consumers rather than producers.
  • Government authorities - Public governance actors include municipalities, regional governments, state authorities such as the Swedish Board of Agriculture and national governmental departments.
  • Innovators, company and product development - A number of networks, companies and initiatives exist which aim to promote innovation, develop new product, protect local gastronomic heritage, increase product refinement and processing, enhance quality and increase values kept within farming companies.
  • Research - Actors involved in research span from (other) researchers at SLU holding expert knowledge on certain sustainability issues or farming practices and and also test-stations and projects aiming to develop varieties suitable for Scandinavia.

Expected results

Main results from the case study include a better understanding of possible pathways for diversifying livestock farms in Sweden, a mapping of challenges to be overcome and a suggestion for actions needed among different stakeholders to make a transition to a food system within planetary boundaries possible.  

Swedish case study

Diversification of dairy and ruminant meat production towards including more crops for direct human consumption