Different types of assessment tools have been developed in Europe with the purpose of determining the environmental impact of various livestock production systems at farm level. The assessment tools differ in terms of which environmental objectives are included and how indicators are constructed and interpreted. The paper compares typical tools for environmental assessment of livestock production systems, and recommends selected indicators suitable for benchmarking. The assessment tools used very different types of indicators ranging from descriptions of farm management and quantification of input to estimates of emissions of, e.g., nitrate and ammonia. The indicators should be useful in a benchmarking process where farmers may improve their practices through learning from farms with better agri-environmental performance. An example of this is given using data on P-surplus on pig farms. Some indicators used the area of the farm as the basis of the indicator—e.g. nitrogen surplus per hectare—while others were expressed per unit produced, e.g. emission of greenhouse gasses per kilogram milk. The paper demonstrates that a comparison of organic vs. conventional milk production and comparison of three pig production systems give different results, depending on the basis of the indicators (i.e. per hectare or per kilogram product). Indicators linked to environmental objectives with a local or regional geographical target should be area-based—while indicators with a global focus should be product-based. It is argued that the choice of indicators should be linked with the definition of the system boundaries, in the sense that area-based indicators should include emissions on the farm only, whereas product-based indicators should preferably include emissions from production of farm inputs, as well as the inputs on the actual farm. The paper ends with recommendations for choice of agri-environmental indicators taking into account the geographical scale, system boundary and method of interpretation.

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