Major new research to look at Pasture for Life farming

Dr John Meadley, chairman of the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association announced the funding at the organisation’s AGM at Lannock Manor Farm, Hitchin in Hertfordshire on Wednesday 11 October 2017.

The funding comes from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Economic and Social Research Council (ERSC) Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and Scottish government.

The three-year study, ‘Sustainable economic and ecological grazing systems – learning from innovative practitioners’, will be led by Dr Lisa Norton from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) and will start in January 2018.

The project will involve up to 60 Pasture for Life farmers, working with researchers to provide data which will be used to evaluate the ecological, agronomic and social impacts of their approach, and investigate its potential for transforming wider livestock systems across GB.

“Our evaluations will include assessments of everything the farmers are doing, from measures of soil quality to pasture biodiversity, from animal growth rates to how often the vet visits,” says Dr Norton. “We shall also be doing detailed economic analysis and talking to consumers who buy Pasture for Life meat and comparing what they say to consumers who don’t.

“We shall investigate the broad range of public goods delivered by these farmers – whether this is the storage of carbon, preserving water quality or enhancing wildlife. I am hoping the project will provide insights that may transform some of the green deserts which currently form much of the agricultural land area in this country.”

Dr Meadley commented:

“Lisa and I started talking about this project a year ago and the news that it is to go head is very exciting.

“Our members all passionately believe in the Pasture for Life approach. The results of this project will provide much needed data and, importantly look at it from several perspectives, including that of the local community.”

George Eustice offers support at AGM

The Pasture-Fed Livestock Association AGM opened with a video of support recorded by the Minister of State, Farming, Fisheries and Food George Eustice MP.

He had visited a Pasture for Life farmer earlier in the year and said he was very interested in pasture-fed livestock systems, because of the advantages for animal welfare, the environment and human health.

“There are a number of great opportunities and I think there is a real chance for us to present these as part of a package, where we try to incentivise and support pasture-based livestock systems,” he said. “And also try to develop a brand around these systems which might be able to dovetail with some of our native beef breeds.”

Professor Achim Dobermann on future research

Also addressing the AGM audience, Professor Achim Dobermann, Director and Chief Executive of Rothamsted Research, said he sensed a strong feeling that there is need for a greener kind of agriculture and to correct some of the things that have gone on over the past 30 years.

He said that consumers’ desire for cheap food so they can spend money on other things, has driven the production of large arable farms and confinement livestock systems. But we should perhaps look for a more harmonised agriculture with the integration of livestock and crops with high environmental outcomes, like Pasture for Life.

Professor Dobermann also expressed real concern about how research is funded at the moment, with researchers incentivised to publish papers in high impact journals rather than necessarily working on finding solutions that farmers want and need.

“We are often not working on real world problems and not working with or for farmers, “ he said. “If we just concentrate on the technology end of things with no focus on real farm businesses – everyone will miss out. We need to work with more farmers and come up with solutions we can test in real-life situations.”

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