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Dairy crossbreeding challenges the French dairy cattle sociotechnical regime
Agronomy for Sustainable Development  (IF5.832),  Pub Date : 2021-03-24, DOI: 10.1007/s13593-021-00683-2
Marie-Angélina Magne, Julien Quénon

Rotational crossbreeding can be faster and more effective than pure breeding in improving the functional traits of cows and developing robust dairy cattle systems. However, this practice remains uncommon worldwide. This is largely assumed to be due to a scarcity of knowledge on dairy crossbreeding schemes and their benefits for cows and herd performance. However, crucial questions remain: Why do so few technical references exist? Why and how do some farmers embrace this practice despite the lack of guidance? To answer these questions, we adopted a sociotechnical view of dairy crossbreeding to characterize the factors that drive, support, and impede its development in France. We qualitatively analyzed 73 articles from two French technical journals on dairy cattle and semi-structured interviews of 17 dairy cattle farmers who practice crossbreeding and 15 representatives of key stakeholders in the sector. Using all these data, we identified three drivers of using dairy crossbreeding: technical problems related to breeding highly specialized purebred cows, the shift towards more sustainable and resilient dairy cattle systems, and a desire to regain decision-making autonomy in farm management. Based on farmers’ interviews, it became evident that they developed know-how “on the job” and created new support networks to overcome impediments that were primarily cognitive/cultural but also technological and market-driven; with these resources, they progressively turned away from the mainstream sociotechnical regime. Based on stakeholders’ interviews, we characterized four groups that limited the development of dairy crossbreeding and one that supported it, and we identified organizational, cognitive/cultural, technological, and economic barriers—many of which were interrelated and self-reinforcing—to its use. These findings demonstrate that dairy crossbreeding is widely recognized as beneficial for the sustainability of dairy cattle farms but remains uncommon in France due to the sociotechnical lock-in of the dairy sector around both pure-breeding and high-specialization paradigms of herd management.