Agri-environmental indicator - intensification - extensification
Data from 2017
Planned article update: December 2020
This article provides a fact sheet of the European Union (EU) agri-environmental indicator intensification/extensification. It consists of an overview of recent data, complemented by all information on definitions, measurement methods and context needed to interpret them correctly. The intensification/extensification article is part of a set of similar fact sheets providing a complete picture of the state of the agri-environmental indicators in the EU.
The input intensity of a farm can be defined as the level of inputs used by the farm per unit of factor of production (in general land). Intensification is defined as the increase in farm intensity, while the extensification describes the opposite trend. Farm input intensity is used as a proxy of agricultural intensification.
This article presents data from 2004 to 2013. In 2004, ten new Member States joined the EU and from then benefited from the CAP and was covered by the Farm Accountancy Data Network FADN. Two countries joined in 2007 (Bulgaria and Romania) and one in 2013 (Croatia) and therefore data are available for these countries from the year they joined the EU. This is the reason why data in this article are presented by EU Member States joining after 2004 and by EU Member States before 2004 (EU-15).
In this fact sheet, the degree of intensification and extensification is analysed with a main indicator and a supporting indicator.
- Trend in the shares of UAA managed by low, medium and high intensity farm.
- Average input expenditure per hectare in constant input prices.
Indicators are broken down by EU group, Member State, and type of farming.
- In the EU-15, there was a slight but clear trend towards extensification from 2004 to 2008, whereas there was no clear trend afterwards. In the countries that joined the EU from 2004 onwards (Poland, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria, Malta, Cyprus and Croatia), there was an intensification process from 2004 to 2006. From 2007 to 2009 there was a more clear extensification trend, followed by another period of intensification until 2013.
- The trend by Member State can be significantly different from the average of its EU-group (EU-15 or the 13 countries that have joined as of 2004). In 14 Member States the trend was more or less towards extensification over the period studied. On the other hand, intensification was identified in 10 Member States.
- The average input expenditure per hectare is strongly linked to the type of farming. Specialist granivore farms (i.e. farms with livestock which feeds mainly on grains e.g. pigs and poultry) have on average the highest input levels. Mixed cropping farms and specialist field crop farms have the lowest input levels. The trend (intensification or extensification) is explained more by the EU-group or country, than by the type of farming.
The indicator is assessed by:
- EU group (EU-15 or the 13 countries that have joined from 2004 onwards);
- Member State;
- type of farming according to FADN TF8 Grouping.
The detailed results are annexed in a separate excel file. The fact sheet presents the main results, and the series of tables/graphs provide an overall view of the situation. They show information on the main indicator over the period studied. Yet, to properly interpret and qualify the trends for the main indicator, it is necessary to look at the average level of intensity in the country/region. Therefore, information on the sub-indicator, average level of intensity (average input expenditure per hectare in 2010 constant input prices, in EUR/hectare), is presented where relevant.
It should be noted that given the availability of data at the time of preparing this fact sheet, the period studied was 2004-2013 for all countries, except:
- for Bulgaria and Romania: 2007-2013;
- for Croatia: only 2013, therefore it was not possible to assess a trend at this stage.
Analysis at EU group level
Overall for the EU-15, the shares of UAA managed by low, medium and high intensity farms did not change radically during the period studied (Figure 1a). From 2004 until 2008, the share of UAA managed by high intensity farms decreased, very slightly but steadily, from 39 % to 32 %. From 2009 the share remained stable at 35 % until 2011, and then started increasing to reach 38 % in 2012 and 2013. The share of UAA managed by low intensity farms follows the opposite dynamic. It increased from 29 % to 37 % between 2004 and 2008, then stayed stable at approximately 35 % till 2013. The share of UAA managed by medium intensity farms was initially more constant over time. It then decreased from 38 % to 31 % between 2004 and 2005, and has since kept deceasing down to 27 % in 2013. Therefore, in the EU-15, the trend towards extensification is weak but clear from 2004 to 2008, whereas there is no clear trend afterwards.
For the countries that joined the EU in 2004 and later, the share of UAA managed by low intensity farms is more significant compared to the other categories, even if the trend is fluctuating (Figure 1b). The share decreased from 49 % in 2004 to 43 % in 2006, followed by growth up to 60 % in 2009. Afterword it decreased again to 51 % in 2013. The trends are similar for the other two levels of input intensity. The share of UAA managed by high intensity farms increased from 14 % in 2004 to 17 % in 2006. It then decreased gradually until 2009, and increased again to reach 15 % in 2013. The share managed by medium intensity farms increased from 37 % in 2004 to 39 % in 2006. This was followed by a reduction to 28 % in 2010, and growth to 34 % in 2013. Therefore, three different trends can be identified for these countries; from 2004 to 2006 there is an intensification process, whereas from 2007 to 2009 a more clear extensification trend, followed by another intensification period until 2013.
However, the trend should be put in perspective by a measure of the absolute level of "intensity", as mentioned above. In this fact sheet, the input expenditure per hectare in 2010 constant input prices (EUR/ha) is used for this purpose. Table 1 summarizes the results for the EU groups. It shows that in both in EU-15 and in the newer Member States, no clear trend was visible for the period 2007-2013. As has been described above, there were fluctuations and only shorter periods of clear trends towards intensification or extensification. What it is more significantly different between the two EU groups is the level of the input expenditure. For the newer Member States, the average is between 155 and 350 EUR/ha, while for the EU-15 it is higher than 350 EUR/ha.
Analysis at Member State level
In 2013 (Figure 2), between 53 % and 88 % of the agricultural area of the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Malta, Luxembourg and France was managed by high intensity farms. The countries with the highest percentage (56 %-82 %) of agricultural area managed by low intensity farms were Estonia, Bulgaria, Spain, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Portugal. In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, mainly medium intensity farms were found, with a share of 49 % and 47 % of the agricultural area respectively.
The trend for individual Member States can be significantly different from their EU group average. Extensification was observed in 14 Member States over the period studied i.e. 2004-2013. During this period this trend is particularly clear in Greece, but also in Finland, Portugal and Italy (increases by around 10-20 percentage points in the UAA share managed by low intensity farms, and decreases by between 15 and 5 percentage points points of the UAA share managed by high intensity farms). The trend had the same direction in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Finland, Romania and United Kingdom. For Austria, the increased area managed by low intensive farms came essentially from the reduction in area managed by medium intensity farms.
In Slovakia and the Czech Republic, there were strong processes of intensification. The UAA share managed by high intensity farms increased between 8 and 14 percentage points, with a simultaneous decrease between 19 and 27 percentage points in the UAA share managed by low intensity farms. Latvia and Lithuania follow with a similar process. The trend is less pronounced in Spain, Ireland, and Sweden.
In Estonia, the decrease in the UAA share managed by low intensity farms seemed to be compensated by an increase of the same magnitude in the UAA share managed by medium intensity farms. For the Netherlands and Poland, areas seem to have moved from medium intensity to high input intensity farming. In the remaining countries it was not possible to identify a clear trend.
However, to properly interpret the trend in each country, it is necessary also to have in mind the range of the "intensity" level (Table 2). When analysing the sub-indicator on "average level of input expenditure", at Member State level it emerges that Portugal, Greece and Malta are involved in a clear extensification process. However, for Portugal the average level of input expenditure is lower (between 155 and 350 EUR/ha), than for the other two countries where the average expenditure is above 350 EUR/ha. Intensification processes were going on in Estonia, Bulgaria, Ireland, Belgium and Cyprus, with different level of input intensity. For the other countries it was possible to identify the level of intensity in inpus use, but not a clear trend over the time.
Obviously the average level may hide big differences between regions. Map 1 shows the regional average level of input expenditure per hectare and the trend, when available and clearly identifiable. For the map, the trend is assessed by comparing averages in given years (2007-2009 vs 2011-2013), and therefore the overall picture may look a bit different.
Analysis by type of farming
In the EU-28, the share of agricultural area managed by high intensity farms during the period 2004-2013 showed a stable trend for most of the farming types, with the exception of horticultural farms and mixed livestock farms (Figure 3a). In particular, the first type of farms decreases its share by 12 percentage points in the period, whereas the second type increases its share by 8 percentage points. For the other types of farms, the changes over the period were around 2-3 percentage points; a slight decrease of the main indicator from 2007 to 2008, followed by a slight increase in 2009.
The share of agricultural area managed by medium intensity farms decreased by between 3 and 6 percentage points for most of the farm types between 2004 and 2013. A particularly fluctuating trend over the period was observed for horticultural farms (Figure 3b); and at the end of the period the share had returned to the initial level.
For low intensity farms (Figure 3c) there was an increasing trend in the area managed by several types of farms, especially for horticultural farms (thereby confirming a clear extensification process indicated in Figure 3a). For mixed crops-livestock farms the trend was strongly fluctuating over the period and for mixed livestock farms the share decreased by 4 percentage points, demonstrating a general intensification process.
In terms of input expenditure by type of farms, Figure 4 shows the relationship between the variation in input expenditure - averages 2007-2009 and 2011-2013 - within the EU-15 group and the group of EU countries that have joined in 2004 and after for the different farm types. It provides at the same time information on the 2011-2013 average value of expenditure (expressed by the size of the spheres). On average, the granivore farms and the horticultural farms have the highest values of expenditure (respectively 2670 EUR/ha and 1320 EUR/ha), whereas mixed cropping farms and field crops farms have the lowest (around 230-240 EUR/ha).
The variation in the input expenditure between the two periods 2007-2009 and 2011-2013 is in general stronger for the newer EU Member States than for the EU-15. For horticultural farms, there is a decrease in input expenditure for both EU-groups, although the magnitude is larger in the newer EU Member States, -28 %, while for the EU-15 it was -4 %. Input expenditure decreased also on permanent crops farms and the mixed livestock farms. On the contrary, field crop farms, mixed crops-livestock and granivore farms register an increase in input expenditure in both EU groups. Granivore farms increased by 26 % in the newer EU Member States and 2 % in the EU-15.
Source data for tables and graphs
Intensification is used to describe an increase in farm input intensity. It is a complex concept involving monitoring the trend over time of inputs for which consistent data are not systematically available. Therefore, the concept had to be simplified for the purpose of this indicator.
In this fact sheet, intensity is estimated by dividing input expenditure per hectare by the input price indexes in the year and country in question. Intensification/extensification is measured by the trend in the shares of the agricultural area managed by low, medium and high intensity farms. The inputs taken into account are fertilisers, pesticides and purchased feed. It allows covering both crop and livestock productions. Water use could not be included because there is no consistent information available. Energy use is not included since it is addressed in another specific agri-environmental indicator (Energy use) and it would have been difficult to interpret the results.
- Trend in the shares of the agricultural area managed by low, medium and high intensity farm.
This indicator provides information on the trend in terms of utilised agricultural area UAA managed by farms with different input use. At aggregated level, a decline in the share of area managed by high intensity farms together with an increase (or no change) in the share of area managed by low intensity farms is interpreted as extensification, the contrary for intensification. In a given region or Member State, a rise in the share of UAA managed by low intensity farms may very well happen together with an increase in the UAA managed by high intensity farms. This is interpreted as "no clear trend". This is also "no clear trend" when the shares of UAA in the three intensity classes remain fairly stable, or vary too much during the period studied to identify a trend.
- Average input expenditure per hectare in constant input prices.
This indicator provides information on the degree of intensity in farm inputs use. To identify a process towards intensification or extensification, the trend was analysed by comparing the input expenditure for two 3-year averages, 2007-2009 and 2011-2013. If the result was a reduction above 15 %; it was interpreted as an extensification process. If the result was an increase over 15 %, it was interpreted as an intensification process. In all the other cases a clear trend was not recognizable.
Indicators are broken down by EU group, Member State, and type of farming. Please note that for the purpose of this indicator, the type of farming refers to the FADN typology TF8 Grouping.
Links with other indicators
The agri-environmental indicator "Intensification/extensification" is linked to the other indicators presented in Eurostat’s dedicated section on agri-environmental indicators.
Data used and methodology
The main data source for this indicator is the Farm Accountancy Data Network (FADN). FADN is a European system of sample surveys conducted every year to collect structural and accountancy data on farms, with the aim of evaluating the impact of the Common Agricultural Policy. It covers only farms above a minimum size. In 2013, FADN farms represented 47 % of the farm population in the Farm Structure Survey, but 94 % of UAA. The rules applied aim to provide representative data from three dimensions: region, economic size and type of farming. FADN is the only source of micro-economic data that is harmonised, i.e. applies the same book-keeping principles in all EU countries.
The complementary source used for this indicator is the database on price indices of the means of agricultural production from Eurostat. For further information on this database: Agricultural prices and price indices (apri_pi10_ina)
Methodology on input levels per hectare
Farms are classified in intensity categories according to an estimate of input volume per hectare of UAA. The inputs considered are fertilisers, pesticides and other crop protections and purchased feed. It allows covering both crop and livestock productions.
Fertiliser expenditure (purchased fertilisers and soil improvers ) is divided by the fertiliser price index in the country of the same year in order to estimate the volume used. Similarly, crop protection expenditure (plant protection products, traps and baits, bird scarers, anti-hail shells, frost protection) is divided by the pesticide price index in the country of the same year. Purchased feed cost is also divided by the feed price index in the country of the same year. The indices used are available from the Eurostat database . The result is thus expressed in "constant 2010 input prices, EUR per ha". The method allows not only deducting inflation, but also the input prices fluctuation. Thus it allows approaching the trend in volume of inputs used per hectare. However, it does not capture differences of input prices between countries and the differences of prices within each category of input (for example between a pesticide A and a pesticide B). Therefore, it does not give the exact volume of inputs used for a year in a country.
But to properly interpret and qualify the trends for the main indicator, it is necessary to look at the average level of intensity in the country/region. Intensification in a country with very low intensity does not mean the same for the environment as intensification in a country with high intensity. That is the purpose of the supporting indicator, average input expenditure per hectare in constant input prices. It is not the ideal measurement of intensity; however it is the best estimate that we can obtain from the available data for now.
It should be underlined that Member States do not all have euro and that changes in the exchange rate may explain some differences between Member States.
For the denominator, the total UAA as collected through FADN has been chosen, which does not include common land. The area of common land used by the farm is actually very difficult to estimate. This can have an impact on the results for Spain, Greece, the United Kingdom and Bulgaria in particular. The area used by the farm may be underestimated. It means that the ratio of inputs per hectare may be overestimated and therefore the share of area managed by medium and high intensity farms in these countries. At farm level, when the UAA is null, which can happen in certain very intensive livestock farms with only buildings and no agricultural area, inputs are divided by the other area of the holding (ground occupied by buildings).
Finally it should be underlined that the potential environmental damage is not always proportionate to the volume or expenditure of inputs: for example, one kg of a certain pesticide might be more damaging for the environment than 5 kg of another one. Therefore, the results should be interpreted with care.
Classification of farms according to their intensity
Each farm is classified according to the level of input use per hectare. The thresholds have been set in such a way that the UAA of the EU Member States in the first year of the analysis, 2004 (i.e. not including the countries that joined later; Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia) is equally divided into the three categories. If it is higher than 350 constant EUR/ha, the farm is classified as "high". When it is below 155 constant EUR/ha, it is classified as "low". Otherwise, it is "medium". These levels should not be interpreted to represent the boundaries of what is extensive and intensive farming. They are only set in order to study the trends of shares in UAA managed by farms of different categories of intensity. The same thresholds are used for each EU group, country, and type of farming and it allows comparing the trends between them.
Typology of farms
For this fact sheet, we have used the typology of farms as in the FADN Types of Farming (General TF) under Regulation (EC) No 1242/2008. It is described below:
- Specialist field crops
- Specialist horticulture
- Specialist permanent crops
- Specialist grazing livestock
- Specialist granivore
- Mixed cropping
- Mixed livestock
- Mixed crops-livestock
Intensification is an important restructuring process that has characterised European agriculture for several decades (e.g. European Commission, 1999). Intensification is in here understood as an increase in agricultural input use per hectare of land, which usually leads to an increase in the level of production per unit of land, livestock unit and agricultural working unit. Intensification often goes together with an increase in efficiency in the use of inputs during the agricultural production process. If the yield increase grows more than the use of fertilisers, pesticides and water for irrigation then improved crop varieties, better management and technological development have made the utilisation of inputs more efficient. However, intensification may nevertheless result in negative externalities to the environment.
The proposed indicators are used as a “proxy” of agricultural intensification. The total value of inputs (in this analysis the costs of fertilisers, pesticides, and feedstuff) in constant national input prices purchased by the holding as a whole is only a proxy indicator, in absence of data on trends in the volumes of inputs used in specific production activities undertaken by a holding. Furthermore, the overall “intensity” of a farming system is the result of very diverse parameters including a wide range of farm (and field) management practices. Thus, for instance, the “intensity” of a livestock farm is the result of the input use (fertilisers, concentrate feed, etc.), livestock patterns (the type of animal reared), cropping patterns (the composition of the forage system, pastures or maize), stocking density, and management practices (waste, use of manure…). Some of these processes are covered by other indicators.
The process of intensification has been driven by several factors. In the period just after the Second World War an important driver was the decline of the agricultural labour force which stimulated the introduction of labour saving technologies and continuous technological development. In the following decades, the main driver for intensification was the need for economic efficiency gains in farming, supported by price support and import restrictions provided by the Common Agricultural Policy. However, the trade-offs between agriculture and environment emerged with increasing clarity and the policy was gradually targeted towards a more sustainable management of land systems. The recent CAP reforms, especially the most recent one covering the period 2014-2020, aim to improve the environmental performance of the agricultural sector.
The main tools for this are cross-compliance, the green direct payment and the agri-environmental measures. The CAP intends to foster sustainable farming, to protect the landscape and its features, natural and genetic resources, soil and biodiversity. An intense debate has developed recently on "sustainable intensification", a term referring to the need to simultaneously increase agricultural productivity to face the greater demand for food expected in the next 35 years while further reducing negative environmental aspects.
Policy relevance and context
The primary role of agriculture is to supply food. Given that demand worldwide will continue rising in the future, the EU should be able to contribute to world food demand. Therefore, it is essential that EU agriculture maintains and improves its production capacity while respecting EU commitments in international trade and Policy Coherence for Development. EU agriculture finds itself today in a considerably more competitive environment, as the world economy is increasingly integrated and the trading system more liberalized. This trend is expected to continue in the coming years. It represents a challenge for EU farmers, but also offers an opportunity for EU food exporters. Therefore, it is important to continue to enhance the competitiveness and productivity of the EU agriculture sector. Although favourable in the medium-term, the perspectives for agricultural markets are nonetheless expected to be characterised by greater uncertainty and increased volatility. On the other hand, agriculture and forestry play an important role in producing public goods; notably environmental public goods such as landscapes, farmland biodiversity, climate stability and greater resilience to natural disasters (flooding, drought and fire). At the same time, some farming practices have the potential to put pressure on the environment, leading to soil depletion, water shortages and pollution, and loss of wildlife habitats and biodiversity. The challenge ahead is to continue to meet the demand for food while at the same time reduce the pressures on the environment. The CAP is currently addressing this challenge through the greening and cross-compliance for direct payments as well as through instruments like the agri-environment-climate measures.
As other commercial activities, agriculture is aimed principally at production. During the 20th century policy support to agriculture was mainly targeted at ensuring food security by increasing production. But agriculture is inherently reliant on a good state of the environment and the natural resources on which it depends. These objectives are nowadays targeted through both environmental and agricultural policies on EU level.
Some of the characteristics of the intensification process are for example an increase in the use of chemical inputs (fertilisers and crop protection), machinery, water and energy. In general these changes can lead to a higher pressure on the environment, for example, through increased application of nitrogen and pesticides (see the relevant indicators). A higher use of fertilisers and pesticides, for instance, increases the risk of nutrients and pesticides run-off into surface and ground waters. However, the actual effect of the use of inputs on the environment does not only depend on the amount of inputs used but also on how they are applied. Therefore, intensification does not necessarily need to lead to environmental degradation. Inputs like fertilisers are also needed to sustain soil fertility, when crops are harvested. Too low use of fertilisers may therefore also lead to environmental degradation. By managing a large part of the European Union's territory, agriculture preserves farm resources, farmland biodiversity, and a wide range of valuable habitats. Many of these habitats and related species have a direct interdependence with agriculture.
Extensification due to lack of resources may lead to low profitability for the farmer and ultimately farm land abandonment. Farmland abandonment may imply loss of landscape and biodiversity, and increased vulnerability to natural disasters. Maintenance of a number of ecosystems that have emerged from agricultural cultivation depends on the continuation of appropriate land management practices.
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- Price indices of agricultural products (apri_pi)
- Price indices of agricultural products (2010=100) (apri_pi10)
- Price indices of the means of agricultural production, input (2010 = 100) - annual data (apri_pi10_ina)
- Price indices of agricultural products (2010=100) (apri_pi10)
- Price indices of agricultural products (apri_pi)
- Agriculture and Environment (aei)
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- Variable SE300 in FADN.
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