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Cranfield University approaches land use from a scientific perspective, and tends to focus on large scale agriculture. However, some of the tools it uses in its environmental research are of relevance to agroecology, such as lifecycle analysis and agricultural systems modelling, which are of relevance at all scales. For example a DEFRA sponsored study on the “Environmental burdens of agricultural and horticultural commodity production” examined the environmental burdens of ten commodities: bread wheat, potatoes, oilseed rape, tomatoes, beef, pig meat, sheep meat, poultry meat, milk and eggs. A clear picture of the environmental burdens was generated using the systematic and holistic method of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). The Cranfield team applied its expertise in LCA by combining the approach with agricultural systems modelling to examine the overall environmental ‘cost’ of production, thereby ensuring that the full range of resources and burdens are considered from source to farm gate. It is thus possible to compare different production methods and establish which are least detrimental. In this study, the research team focused on the difference in environmental burdens between organic and non-organic food production and different intensities (e.g. milk yield). All primary resources (e.g. fossil fuels) and processes (e.g. feed and machinery manufacture) were included. Environmental burdens were quantified by combining individual emissions to calculate composite scores for (for example) Global Warming Potential (GWP) or abiotic resource use.
Cranfield is involved in an EU research project Finding a smarter way to tackle mycotoxins - toxic substances produced by a fungus, in which knowledge needs to be integrated into practical and affordable tools that can be used by farmers and food / feed processors along the chain to reduce the risk of mycotoxin contamination of crops, feed and food and to prevent losses.
Also being co-ordinated at Cranfield University is Agforward, a €6 million European-funded project that will work with farmers and land owners in 15 countries across Europe to identify how agroforestry practices (farming with trees) can create profitable, productive, and environmentally beneficial farming systems. The project runs from January 2014 to December 2017. One group will look at the current extent of agroforestry across Europe including valued habitats such as parklands in the UK and the Dehesa system in Spain. Another group will work with farmers to understand how established agroforestry systems can be improved, and how and where trees can provide benefits in arable and livestock systems. Examples include woodland egg production, woodland pigs, and grazed orchards. The team will also evaluate the potential for innovative practices for locations where agroforestry is not currently practiced.