Discipline: farm analysis; Keywords: systems dynamic model, costs, management intervention, sub-models.

It is fundamental to identify and understand the complexity of the dairy production system and to account for all the different variables that contribute to such an integrated system. Both holistic and individual analyses are necessary to thoroughly understand, compare and improve environmental impacts and productivity from different factors. Hence, the objective of the research by the authors cited below is to develop a system dynamics model together with a supporting web- and phone-based application (app) or tool, to assist dairy farmers in calculating and monitoring the impact of environmental indicators such as carbon balance, N-use efficiency and water use on the economic outcome of their operations. The model and the app will combine as a hands-on tool for farmers to proactively engage with determining the environmental indicators, with associated financial and economic costs and benefits. This will enable the farmer to provide inputs to key parameters of his/her operation, followed by real-time estimates of the impacts. The farmer will thus be able to select an optimum management intervention from a biophysical and economic vantage point.

System dynamics is a technical tool and method to describe and model a dynamic (i.e. ever-changing) and complex (i.e. multi-varied) system. It is also a way of thinking. By considering a range of interactive processes, the information behind these processes and the embedded thresholds in dynamic complex systems, system dynamics provides a framework to think through dynamically complex processes in a robust and structured manner. By doing so, it assists the researcher in seeking the best way to bring a range of variables, of diverse units and dimensions, together. Yet, it does so by distilling a high degree of rigour and discipline as the model outcomes can easily be verified. The outcome and the system behaviour are linked to and caused by the system structure. If any anomaly is found by applying a range of tests, among others structural tests, the basic architecture, or theory, of the model is incorrect and should be revised. The application thereof has mushroomed to a range of disciplines, which will be divided into different sub-models within this specific research. These sub-models are:

  1. Herd feedstock dynamics
  2. Manure management
  3. On farm feed and fodder management
  4. External sources
  5. GHG emissions
  6. Financial efficiency
  7. Economic efficiency 

It is therefore a well-accepted and broadly endorsed means of investigation with broad application. The authors believe that the sector and the producer alike can improve their competitiveness and significance as an essential protein supplier through science-informed, measured and monitored land-use change.


Reinecke, R & Blignaut, J., 2021. A system dynamics approach to incorporate environmental indicators into economic outcomes of dairy production systems in South Africa. Project funded by Milk SA, Pretoria.