Scientists from Rothamsted Research are set on finding sustainable solutions to combat the environmental impact of livestock. The researchers are investigating the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cattle by up to 50%.

Speaking to edie, Rothamsted’s professor of sustainable livestock systems Michael Lee said the project would involve a full “lifecycle analysis” of livestock production. Professor Lee said Rothamsted Research wanted to “position livestock in the armoury of food security” but admitted some countries will need to consume less meat.

Supply chain

In its research, the institute will look to find how carbon emissions from the livestock throughout the supply chain can be reduced, looking at fertiliser imports, transport emissions and the animals themselves. It will also focus on the business needs of farmers. “One of the key metrics we look at is economic viability,” added Professor Lee. “We want to open up the debate on how we can best use grazing land.” 

The institute has already been studying how livestock can be used for grazing land not suitable for crop production and monitoring the reductions in methane production from cows by feeding them different types of grass and plants.

The research so far suggests it is inefficient to produce beef using grains humans could otherwise eat; wasting food resources and increasing the animals’ carbon footprint. By finding more efficient and less polluting ways of feeding cows, Rothamsted hopes to reduce the need for imported cereals and grains.

The project is taking place at a ‘Farm Platform’ at North Wyke farm in Devon. The farm is divided into three areas: permanent pasture, grass and glover and new grass varieties. Animal productivity, animal health and gas emissions are measured for each site, as are water outputs.

Global platform

Professor Lee added: “Likely benefits of designing environmentally optimal livestock grazing systems may include the reduced need for fertiliser application, increased production and nutritional quality, low gas emissions and the support of biodiversity and the provision of ecosystem services.

“There are, of course, possible trade-offs associated with designing livestock grazing systems which need consideration and discussion.”

The research forms part of the Global Farm Platform, which aims to improve livestock farming internationally. It is being carried out in collaboration with the universities of Bristol, Exeter and Reading and the scientists hope an upcoming exhibition at the Royal Society will present an ideal opportunity to showcase what sustainable agriculture should look like. 

Matt Field

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