Tomke Lindena1, Anna Sophie Claus1, Dr. Heike Kuhnert2, Dr. Birthe Lassen1, Prof. Dr. Hiltrud Nieberg1

1Thünen Institute of Farms Economics

2Project Office “Land und Markt”



Sustainability is increasingly becoming a specific requirement for the production, processing  and  marketing  of  food.  Internationally  and  nationally  consumers, society, food retailers and food companies want to know from the German dairy industry:  how  sustainable  is  your  milk  produced?  However,  the  integration  of dairy  farms  in  (dairy  processor-specific)  sustainability  concepts  poses  particular challenges:  on  the  one  hand,  a  large  number  of  dairy  farms,  some  with  very different  production  conditions,  must  be  taken  into  account.  Given  the  fact,  that agriculture  takes  place  “under  the  open  sky”,  external  effects  have  to  be considered.  Therefore,  on  the  other  hand,  a  very  broad  range  of  indicators concerning  economic,  environmental  and  social  sustainability  as  well  as  animal welfare  have  to  be  recorded  at  dairy  farm  level.  The  problem:  so  far  there  are scarcely any simple workable and cost-effective means to measure sustainability at dairy farm level in its entirety.

Against this background in an intensive multi-stakeholder dialogue, the so-called “Dairy Sustainability Tool” (DST) has been developed. The idea of the DST is to serve as a basic tool for an initial illustration of sustainability aspects at dairy farm level.  It  aims  to  initiate  a  dialogue  within  the  supply  chain  and  to  stimulate stepwise  improvement  of  sustainable  dairy  production  in  Germany.  The  tool consists of (a) a questionnaire for measuring more than 80 sustainability criteria, (b)  factsheets  with  explanations  (background  and  status-quo)  of  every sustainability  criteria  and  their  respective  ratings  and  (c)  a  web-based questionnaire as well as (d) a database.


The overall  objective of  the  pilot  project  is  to  put the  DST  in  practice  on  a  large scale for the first time, to check its feasibility and recognition at all stages of the value  chain.  Additionally,  due  to  constantly  new  scientific  findings  and  practical experiences,  the  tool  will  be  continuously  improved  based  on  the  knowledge gained. As a result there should be an outwardly transparent industry solution for the sustainable development of dairy production in Germany, which is suitable for a wider successful dissemination.


The  pilot  project  started  in  February  2017  and  will  last  until  2020.  During  this time,  more than 30 German dairy processors are testing the DST. The resulting dataset is unique as it provides detailed information about relevant sustainability aspects  of  a  large  number  of  dairy  farms.  Within  the  first  year,  data  concerning economic, environmental and social sustainability as well as animal welfare were collected on more than 4 500 dairy farms. The dairy processors are now starting an internal process to deal with the results of the status quo analysis: discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the sustainability of the farms, formulating goals for  the  further  development  of  sustainable  dairy  production  and  developing possible measures for implementation.


The  concept,  selected  first  results  and  future  steps  of  the  Dairy  Sustainability Tool will be presented at the conference.



Tomke Lindena has been working at the Thuenen Institute of Farm Economics in the field “international competitiveness of dairy production” since 2015. Besides her work in the project “Dairy Sustainability Tool” she works on policy advices for the German Ministry of Agriculture. She is also responsible for the German group in the European Dairy Farmers (EDF) network. Tomke comes from a dairy farm in northern Germany, which her brothers have now taken over from their parents. She is currently doing her PHD in the field of “economic analyses of sustainable dairy production” in cooperation with the University of Kiel. “. She is supervised by Prof Dr Sebastian Hess (University of Kiel) and Prof Dr Hiltrud Nieberg (Thuenen Institute).

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