Agro-ecological Knowledge Hub



Challenges and Dilemma

Key Challenge: High animal densities and the related emissions, causing important environmental problems. 
Dilemma: The intensive agriculture in the Lucerne Central Lakes region is of high economic importance. The analysis carried out so far suggests that the intensification of animal husbandry and the detachment of animal numbers from agricultural area was fostered by a number of factors, of which the political measures play a crucial role. The system is dominated by strong path dependencies: farmers having invested in large farm buildings and bearing considerable depths; the regional agricultural input market (i.e. fodder industry, barn construction industry) being specialised in the needs of intensive animal husbandry farmers; animal traders and processers being specialised in large-scale production; a knowledge and advisory system specialised in intensive animal husbandry. Finally, the economic situation of farmers will most likely worsen with future regional effects of climate change.

Research questions:

  • How would a site- and soil-specific agriculture in the Lucerne Central Lakes region look like?
  • How can emissions from agriculture be reduced?
  • What market and policy setting is needed in order to foster such a site- and soil-specific agriculture?

Key characteristics and sustainability issues of the farming system

The Lucerne Central Lakes region with the Sempach, Baldegg and Hallwil lakes was selected as the Swiss case study because it faces particular challenges due to high animal densities. The agriculture in this region is dominated by animal production, the most important farm types being specialised milk farms (31%) and specialised cattle rearing and fattening farms (14%). Generally, the canton of Lucerne has animal densities which are above the Swiss average. The region is one of the most intensive pig farming regions in Switzerland as well as in Europe. About 8% of the farms are specialised pig farms. 
Many farms are based on the so-called "internal increase", buying in (imported) concentrate fodder and being detached from the own agricultural land when it comes to fodder supply. This strategy was actively promoted for decades by the agricultural policy, which resulted in significant investments in this branch of industry. The high animal densities cause important emissions and are (co-)responsible for a number of environmental problems. Ammonium emissions lead to nitrogen inputs to sensitive ecosystems and a reduction of biodiversity. Nitrate emissions are harming the drinking water quality. Moreover, the region has a long story of high phosphorus emissions and a consequential oxygen-depletion in the lakes. In the 1980ies, this originated in the installation of aeration facilities in all three lakes, which are running until today. 70% of the phosphorus reaching the Lucerne Central Lakes originates from agriculture. The situation has improved in the last decades but P loads into the lakes are, especially into Lake Baldegg, still high. 
To comply with the nutrient balance required for receiving farm payments, manure is transported to other farms. Furthermore, the storage and spreading of liquid manure occasionally results in losses due to leakages, technical failures and wrong application. These so-called „manure accidents” cause important damages to water ecosystems. Finally, the animal husbandry, namely the pig farms produce odour nuisances, which is an issue for neighbours and the local population. Summarising, the central challenge of this case study region is the high animal density, the related emissions and their effect on the environment.
Despite efforts and countermeasures, the targets for phosphorus inputs and phosphorus degradation, as well as for the reduction of ammonia emissions, could not yet be achieved. Animal stocking is stagnating at a consistently high level. Farmers are faced with particular challenges as large long-term investments have been made, which make transitions towards more agro-ecological systems difficult. 

Key actors involved

Key actors involved include actors from agriculture and the food system (i.e. including processing and trade), as well as other affected actors and professional groups (e.g. fishermen), environmental organisations and local community associations.


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