Western Morning News (Saturday)
Grass fed is green option for farming sustainably
GRASS-FED beef herds and sheep flocks, such as those which are a mainstay of the Westcountry’s rural economy, have a central role to play in tackling climate change as part of a sustainable farming system, according to a new report.
The Food, Farming and Countryside Commission ( FFCC) says ruminant livestock have been “morphed into the climate villain of global agriculture”.
Publishing its ‘Farming for Change: Mapping a Route to 2030’ report this week, to coincide with the Oxford Real Farming Conference, the charity argues that pasture-based herds can play an “essential ecological function” in nutrient cycling, improving soil health, biodiversity and building up resilience to climate change, while also reducing emissions.
The report, based on the ‘Ten Years for Agroecology Europe’ model by the French research institute IDDRI, puts ruminant livestock “right at the heart of a functioning, balanced agroecological system”.
This is because of their capacity to improve soil fertility through manure and enable farmers to “harness the potential of our grasslands to produce nutrient-dense protein”.
Sue Pritchard, chief executive of the FFCC, explained: “The need to tackle the climate, nature, health - and now economic - crises could not be more pressing. This research will help us broaden our options and understand the potential for agroecology as an integrating approach that could have real impact across all these issues.
“Our modelling is a fascinating tool to understand the implications of a transition to agroecology on carbon sequestration, reaching UK net zero targets, nature recovery, growing more healthy food and much more.”
According to the report, agroecology is based on applying “ecological prin
According to the FFCC report, by 2050 ruminant livestock will contribute 28% of remaining agricultural emissions in the UK ciples to optimise the relationships between plants, animals, humans and the environment”. Through building these relationships, agroecology supports “food production, food security and nutrition, while restoring the ecosystems and biodiversity that are essential for sustainable agriculture”.
Although it recognises the role of grass-fed livestock in agroecological systems, the IDDRI model estimates that overall livestock production would fall around 36% by 2050. Production of chicken, dairy, eggs and pork would be slashed by almost 50% in 2050, freeing up land for agroforestry and rewilding.
In terms of consumption, the model recommends eating “less but better” meat, and “significantly reducing”
This research will help us understand the potential for agroecology SUE PRITCHARD, FFCC
chicken, dairy and pork within diets.
David George, from the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) in the South West, expressed concerns about the practicality of the report’s suggestions, adding: “Whilst it is good that the FFCC have indeed acknowledged the important role grazing cattle and sheep play in sustainable farming, I think farmers will have grave doubts about what they are suggesting as their modelling proposes enormous drops in production - up to 36% for livestock and roughly halving it for poultry, pork and eggs. I don’t see how that’s going to work, unless we end up eating the grass ourselves.”