A new project has launched to showcase how farmers can run an efficient livestock enterprise while delivering environmental benefits.
Led by SAC Consulting beef and sheep specialists Poppy Frater and Lesley Wyllie, the project aims to show how efficient livestock production can go hand-in-hand with achieving biodiversity and climate change benefits.
Running until December this year and involving four farms across Scotland, the project partners hope to develop factsheets and case studies, as well as running a free farm meeting in the summer.
“Often, environmental-based approaches to farming come with a negative impact on agricultural production,” said Ms Frater.
“We either leave land for biodiversity or might compromise production per hectare with lighter stocking rates or slower growth rates for environmental reasons.
“However, food production is still an important public service.”
She said the project, which is funded by the Scottish Government’s University Innovation Fund, would question whether farmers can “have it all” by using methods such as agroforestry, deferred grazing and diverse pasture swards.
“While we might not be able to provide all the answers, we want to understand what is currently practiced that demonstrates good environmental and production outcomes, whilst holding honest discussions about potential negative consequences too,” added Ms Frater.
Oakwood Mill Farm, near Selkirk, is one of the farms taking part in the project.
Run by Giles and Stuart Henry, the farm has adopted a deferred grazing strategy and all cows are out-wintered with the majority of youngstock sold, having been finished off grass, at 19-months-old.
Giles said: “The judicious grazing of our hill by cows in the winter has dramatically changed the biodiversity of the area.
“From an area that was previously over grazed in the summer and early winter, we now have a complete community of flora and fauna along with all the living creatures this brings of every size and description. ”
He said change had brought about an immeasurable benefit to the environment, as well as a herd of cows with enviable outwintering costs.
The other farms taking part in the project are: Logan of Maxwelston in Ayrshire, run by David Whiteford; Edinvale Farms in Moray, run by Jock Gibson; and SRUC’s hill and mountain research centre at Crianlarich in Perthshire.