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Production Flexibility in Extensive Beef Farming Systems

Laura Astigarraga, Departamento de Produccion Animal y Pasturas, Facultad de Agronomía, Universidad de la República, Uruguay
Stéphane Ingrand, INRA SAD, UMR 1273 Metafort, F-63122 Saint-Genes Champanelle, France

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Abstract

The aim of this work is to assess the flexibility of production allowed by extensive production conditions faced with variations in the environment, i.e., market variations and climatic fluctuations, of Limousin beef systems. The study used a case-based methodology in which seven beef farms with less than 1 LU/ha were chosen. Data collection was based on three interviews using a semistructured questionnaire and on the analysis of productive and economic results over a 15-year period (1991-2005). The main evolution of these farms is related to a rise in work productivity associated with an increase in herd size. Herd increase was made possible by enlarging the area, the margin of intensification being limited in these regions. To take advantage of the enlarged land area, females were reared for fattening or for reproduction instead of selling them at weaning. The Limousin female provides a wide product mix because of its plasticity, as has been studied by several researchers. This mix flexibility is achieved by delaying product differentiation, a form of production flexibility that can reduce the risk of under-producing or over-producing varied product configurations. On the other hand, calves sold to the Italian market after weaning are generic products, associated with a flexible production process to overcome fluctuations in forage availability due to climatic variations. The introduction of maize silage for feeding acts as an alternative route, actual and potential, through the system to overcome unexpected forage shortage from natural grasslands as a result of droughts. The study shows that extensive farming systems have developed types of flexibility to match different factors of uncertainty from the environment. Finally, the issue of farm system performance is thus not so much a question of whether a farm is fit at a specific moment in time, but whether it transforms into a less or more sustainable orientation.

Key words

extensive farming system; livestock production system; mix flexibility; process flexibility
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087