Lite NEST – A sustainability decision support tool for Canadian egg farmers

Main Presenter: Vivek Arulnathan 

Co-Authors: Nathan Pelletier

Eggs are an increasingly popular food choice worldwide, including in Canada. Despite growing considerably over the past half century, the modern Canadian egg industry achieves considerably higher productivity, resource efficiency and animal health outcomes relative to historical performance levels [1]. With the Canadian egg industry expected to further grow, it will continue to face increasing societal expectations with respect to sustainability measurement, management, and reporting. The key to achieving these sustainability objectives is a unified approach to on-farm sustainability that can help farmers: 1. reduce their individual impacts; 2. understand available green technologies and strategies; and 3. make business decisions using a sustainability lens. Due to the complexity of both the concept of sustainability and sustainability assessment methods, farm-level Decision Support Tools (DSTs) have become increasingly popular in the agri-food sector for their user-friendliness and design for independent use. These tools are often web-based and simplify complex sustainability issues, thus supporting effective decision-making at the farm-level [2]. A DST with such characteristics – the National Environmental Sustainability Tool (NEST) – is currently under development. NEST is an online, life-cycle based, sustainability assessment and decision support tool intended exclusively for Canadian egg farmers. A first version of this tool – Lite NEST – was launched in February 2022. Lite NEST addresses farm-level sustainability by focusing on a subset of priority decision variables such as feed use, manure management, energy efficiency, and spent hen management. In Lite NEST, egg farmers will be able to monitor their farm’s performance year over year and compare themselves to national and regional housing system-specific benchmarks. The priority environmental considerations and the benchmarks were identified and compiled from the Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) data and results
of two Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) studies of the Canadian egg industry [3,4]. Farms will also be categorised into one of three (low, medium, and high) sustainability brackets in each decision variable based on performance. This will help farmers to easily identify sustainability goals and create action plans to improve their farm’s performance. Lite NEST will also provide farmers with information about a wide range of green technologies and strategies that they can adopt to achieve better sustainability outcomes. At the industry-level, Lite NEST will support standardized data collection, sustainability reporting, and development of industry-wide sustainability targets and policies. Finally, Lite NEST will serve as a useful introduction to sustainability assessment for farmers before the full, model-driven calculator version of NEST is released.

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