One of the ways farming can be made more sustainable

One of the ways farming can be made more sustainable

These days, it is common practice to associate meat production with a lack of sustainability or environmental viability. There is truth to this – with the Western Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development reporting that agriculture is responsible for 14% of the total release of greenhouse gases world-wide. Much of this comes from livestock production – a cow can produce anywhere between 70 and 120kg of methane gas each year.

With plant-based foods continuing to grow at double digit levels, vegan products clearly have a future in the sustainable food industry. However, so do meat and dairy products, especially those made according to organic and sustainable farming methods and the future is bright for sustainable livestock production as was identified in a recent research paper from The University of Cambridge.

Professor Donald Broom, from the University of Cambridge, who led the research said: “Consumers are now demanding more sustainable and ethically sourced food, including production without negative impacts on animal welfare, the environment and the livelihood of poor producers. Silvopastoral systems address all of these concerns with the added benefit of increased production in the long term.”

Cattle production mostly occurs on cleared pastures with only herbaceous plants, such as grasses, grown as food for the cows. It is widely accepted by consumers that in order for this to happen trees and shrubs are removed and herbicides are used to manage the area, both resulting in a loss of biodiversity which is declining at a rapid rate across the globe.

The research paper believes that using a diverse group of edible plants, like those found in a silvopastoral landscape will promote healthy soil, better water retention, encourages biodiversity and the change in feed could potentially reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“The planting as forage plants of both shrubs and trees whose leaves and small branches can be consumed by farmed animals can transform the prospects of obtaining sustainable animal production,” said Professor Broom. “Such planting of ‘fodder trees’ has already been successful in several countries, including the plant Chamaecytisus palmensis which is now widely used for cattle feed in Australia.”

There are other benefits to farming this way, as plants like this produce more food for the animals than pasture (a Columbian trial found an 27% increase in dry matter for food as a result of  producing animals on a silvopastoral landscape) and they provide shade and shelter.

Professor Broom added: “It is clear that silvopastoral systems increase biodiversity, improve animal welfare and provide good working conditions while enabling a profitable farming business. The next step is to get farmers to adopt this proven, sustainable model.”

Are there any farmers out there who would like to share their thoughts on silvopastoral systems and their experience in the comments below?

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