3 environmental management plans for breeders by 2022

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With the opening of the Sustainable Agriculture Incentive in 2022, farmers are under increasing pressure to improve their environmental credentials.

We talk to three ranchers who share how environmental stewardship has already benefited their businesses and what they are committed to doing in the future.

See also: How a mountain farm adapts to survive without subsidies

Sheep

Rich Thomas, Risbury Court, Herefordshire

Rich Thomas © Russell Lewis Photography

Farm facts

Risbury Court

  • 120 ha (300 acres) under upper and mid-level management
  • 300 Romney cross Aberfield ewes placed in Romney or Focus Prime tup
  • Lambs sold deadweight, mainly to Tesco, as well as to local butchers and restaurants
  • 50 purebred Hereford cows
  • Apple orchard of 12 ha (30 acres) and 10 ha (25 acres) of arable land

What steps have you taken to take the lead in environmental management?

We cultivate in a more holistic way. We graze on a target rotation of 30 to 90 days, depending on the time of year and the needs of each field; in winter we try to reach 150 days. This leads to more roots and more organic matter in the soil, which contributes to the carbon cycle.

If we can increase the carbon in our soil and, perhaps more importantly, the activated carbon, we will improve the growth of our soil and grass.

We have planted hedges and reduced the size of the hedges to encourage wildlife and continue to use deep rooting species such as chicory and plantain on temporary grasslands.

Last year, as it was very dry, we did not have the right conditions to use bagged nitrogen in the spring. I left it in the shed and we grew more grass thanks to better grazing management.

I realized we could do without it. The increase in the legume content of the grasslands also helped.

How have these steps benefited your business?

By providing more space for nature, we have seen the agricultural ecosystem balance out. More bugs means more birds, more bats, and more predatory insects like dragonflies.

It also reduced our costs. I don’t think a low input has to be a low output. Initially we may lose production, but in the medium term it will increase and our stocking rate will increase.

What do you commit to doing in 2022?

Even more, and we hope to plant over 500 trees as part of a Woodland Trust agroforestry project. We will plant willows, hazelnuts, and fruit and nut trees.

Letting cattle and sheep graze on trees can help us stop boluses and watering. Willow is rich in cobalt and tannins; the latter can help animals heal themselves against worms.

The cobalt must be mined, a process known to be harmful to the environment and often socially.

Beef

David Barton, Manor Farm, Cirencester, Gloucestershire

David Barton

David Barton © AHDB

Farm facts

Manor farm

  • 100 ha (255 acres) – 45 ha (111 acres) of GS4 mixes and 12 ha (30 acres) of grain. The rest is permanent pastures and woods
  • 70 Salers cross cows calving in spring, served to Salers and Sussex bulls
  • Calves sold at Pigeonnier Park
  • Was 50:50 arable and beef, now switching to beef as it is more sustainable on marginal arable land

What steps have you taken to take the lead in environmental management?

At the end of our higher level Stewardship, we moved on to Countryside Stewardship. We have planted 45 ha (111 acres) of GS4 grassland rich in legumes, which help build organic matter in the soil.

This will help our carbon footprint, because for every 0.1% increase in organic matter, we sequester 9 t of carbon / ha (3.6 t / ac).

The meadows also provide feed for the livestock, while providing us with financial stability over five years as we are paid £ 309 / ha (£ 125 / acre). We graze in rotation and improve the quality of the silage. This should reduce our carbon footprint.

My goal is to be zero carbon on the beef. In March, our carbon footprint was 26.77 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) / kg for beef (excluding soil carbon) against Agrecalc’s national average of 38.05 kg CO2e / kg.

How have these steps benefited your business?

We have reduced our age at arrival from an average of 27 months to 20 months, and we are expected to reach 18 months this year. Financially, it’s good for me, but also good for the environment.

This year we have generally eliminated grass cattle and reduced barley use. This will reduce the number of units that we will have to house in a second winter, which will reduce costs.

What do you commit to doing in 2022?

We will reduce our use of nitrogen fertilizers because it is a huge emitter of nitrous oxide. Planting legumes will help.

We will also look at direct seeding of grasses and see if we can do that with cereals as well.

Dairy

Tom Pattison, Willow Tree Farm, Thrintoft, North Yorkshire

Tom pattison

Tom Pattison © Arla Foods / Chris Rout

Farm facts

Willow farm

  • Family farm
  • About 162 ha (400 acres) cultivated
  • Herd of 290 cows
  • 12,000 liters per cow per year at 4.2% fat and 3.42% protein
  • Arlagarden milk contract
  • Growing grass, corn and winter wheat
  • Cows housed and calving all year round

What steps have you taken to take the lead in environmental management?

A climate check carried out last year by our milk buyer, Arla, showed that we have a carbon footprint of 0.87 kg CO2e / kg milk corrected for fat and protein.

One of the main recommendations to reduce this was to lower the age at first calving.

We have changed our pneumonia vaccination policy, which has reduced pneumonia by over 50% and helped improve growth rates.

This means that we are now serving heifers from 12 months and calving from 23 months. It also reduced the use of antibiotics.

I started doing genomic testing on heifers and raising the best heifers and cows with sexed semen and the rest with Aberdeen Angus.

We use a mating program and breed for an index of profitable lifespan, mastitis resistance, yields, fats and proteins.

We also have solar panels and a heat exchanger that uses the heat from the milk cooler to heat the wash water for the plants.

How have these steps benefited your business?

By maximizing health and selecting resistance to mastitis, we will keep the herd healthier and reduce the use of antibiotics.

The healthier the cows, the longer they will live, which will benefit the company and our carbon footprint.

The earlier we calve the heifers, the faster they will produce milk and the cost of getting them to that point decreases. This will improve our carbon footprint because we have fewer heifers that are not productive.

Solar panels have cut our electricity costs in half in the summer.

What do you commit to doing in 2022?

We are targeting a 3% annual reduction to help Arla achieve an overall 30% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.

Next year we will be completely soy free. Soy is known to have a high carbon footprint, and it’s likely we won’t be able to use it in the future, so we’re already planning that.

We started feeding the heat-treated rapeseed and removed the soy hulls and switched to pressed sugar beet pulp.

We are looking to use less fertilizer and make better use of slurry and manure by targeting them to fields that need them, through soil testing.


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