The Livestock Farm Networks system is dedicated to the development of herbivore farming. As the Networks result from the history of French agricultural development, they are found throughout France and are organized at local level.
The originality of the system lies in the partnerships between farmers, chambers of agriculture and the French Livestock Institute, and in that it uses a global approach to take into account the diversity of livestock farming regions and the study of livestock farming systems. The aim is not to be exhaustive, but to be representative of herbivore farming systems based on the selection of the studied systems. The aim is also to assess the evolution of these systems and to disseminate the benchmarks obtained from the monitoring of 1900 farms by 210 chamber- of-agriculture agents, guided by project leaders from the French Livestock Institute, and financed and supported by public authorities and the professional agriculture bodies. The regional and national enhancement of the Networks are aimed at different audiences: farmers, advisers, teachers (for advice or training),individuals or collectives, and local and national decision makers to improve their understanding of livestock farming systems and to measure the impact of new farming policies and lead their implementation. We also show the capacity of the Networks to mobilize themselves on emerging themes.

Some on-farm issues led this innovation:

1) observe the livestock farming systems in place in the French regions,
2) identify and support innovative systems
3) transfer and disseminate the practices in the form of tools, methods, training and publications.

This new approach is based on the monitoring and a technical and economic analysis of commercial farms. Breaking with a conception that comes solely down the chain of knowledge, it gives enhanced status to individual innovation in livestock management. The farm networks provide a precise knowledge of regional or national principal livestock farm systems. Based on an operational farming system classification, this panel is representative of the farming systems diversity and informs about the global evolution with which they are faced, such as enlargement of farms, adaptation to society expectations, changes in livestock management…
The Farm Networks give the opportunity:
- to research and improve innovative systems with farmers,
- to carry out thematic studies on innovative practices that need to be observed or tried out in a real situation.

Main challenges and bottlenecks have to be mentioned. To be coherent and effective, this system mobilizes many players over several years and requires considerable support, guidance work and farm monitoring. The public administrative establishment, FranceAgriMer, is a major contributor of the Livestock Farm Networks system. Public funds as well as professional farming funds thus finance this system. The financial budget corresponds to five days of work per farm, 50% financed by FranceAgriMer and 50% financed by each structure.

The key success factors in the implementation process are highlighted here. A capacity for proposing various “models” of viable production systems, from the observation of real cases. The livestock farm networks are recognized in particular by the formalisation of global references on the systems, presented in the framework of typical classic cases, describing the consistent functioning of a farm under normal working conditions, for a given system and context. The typical cases are worked out from a complete (subtle) technical and economic analysis of actual farms, monitored within the network over several years. They are modeled on the framework of monitored farms and the farm management is rebuilt according to the description of husbandry and feeding operations. This defines a technical and economic optimum that can be proposed as an objective for other farms. A set of technical and economic indicators describes the results obtained and the practices implemented.

The involvement of the technical and economic performance of the beef cattle farms allows for monitoring this best practice that can impacts on the diffrent thematic areas:

1- Socioeconomic resilience: Measuring and strengthening the competitiveness of livestock farms. Since 2007, the French Livestock Institute has relied on the technical and economic data of the Networks to propose a national method to evaluate the production costs, compliant with international accounting regulations (International Farm Comparison Network, Agri-Benchmark) and applicable to all herbivore farms. This method made it possible to build benchmarks per production system. It is now a basis for many training schemes for technicians and livestock farmers. In the framework of individual advice, the farmers know their production costs per unit produced (1000 liters of milk, 100 kilograms of meat). By comparing them with the benchmarks, they can identify progress margins. Through a collective use of production cost calculations, they can share and discuss improvement processes. For elected representatives, observing the areas of production and their differences in competitiveness can help target public support policies at farmers to maintain the activity of farms including in less favorable areas.

2- Animal Health and Welfare: Veterinary costs are part of the costs analyzed in the global approached. Furthermore the technical discussion around livestock building can lead to improvement of animal health and welfare.

3- Production efficiency and meat quality: The calculation of units producted (kilos of meat or milk) is also an indicator for farmers of their efficiency.

4- Environmental sustainability: In recent years, energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have been measured in some farms of the Network for the LIFE BEEF CARBON project. The LIFE BEEF CARBON project aims to better measure GHG emissions and carbon storage, identify, demonstrate and disseminate innovative good practices on farm to significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the beef carbon footprint by 15% from now to 2025. This action plan to reduce beef carbon footprint is shared in France, Ireland, Italy, and Spain. The French Networks make it possible to take on-farm measurements of these criteria to determine the positioning of the livestock farm models in France.

Source:[action]=filiere&tx_ideleinosys_inosys[controller]=Inosys&cHash=ee324bb3411fc5d039bb3b4a525eac24; Revue d’élevage et de médecine vétérinaire des pays tropicaux, 2015, 68:107-113.