3 environmental management plans for breeders for 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 livestock farmers who explain 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) in upper and intermediate level stewardship
  • 300 Romney cross Aberfield ewes put to a Romney tup or Focus Prime
  • Lambs sold deadweight, mainly to Tesco, as well as local butchers and restaurants
  • 50 purebred Hereford cows
  • 12 ha (30 acres) of apple orchard and 10 ha (25 acres) of arable land

What steps have you taken to be at the forefront of 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 how much each field needs; in winter we try to reach 150 days. This leads to more roots and more soil organic matter, which helps the carbon cycle.

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

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

Last year, because it was so dry, we didn’t have the right conditions to use bagged nitrogen in the spring. I left it in the shed and we grew more grass with better pasture management.

I realized that we could do without it. Increasing grassland legume content also helped.

How have these steps benefited your business?

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

It has also reduced our costs. I don’t believe that a weak entry should be a weak exit. In the beginning, we may lose production, but in the medium term it will increase and our storage rate will increase.

What are you committing to do in 2022?

More of the same, 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 dips. Willow is rich in cobalt and tannins; the latter can help animals heal themselves from worms.

Cobalt must be mined, a process known to be damaging to the environment and often to society.

Beef

David Barton, Manor Farm, Cirencester, Gloucestershire

David Barton

David Barton © AHDB

Farm Facts

Mansion Farm

  • 100ha (255 acres) – 45ha (111 acres) of GS4 mixtures and 12ha (30 acres) of cereals. The rest is permanent pasture and woodland
  • 70 crossbred Salers cows calved in the spring, served to Salers and Sussex bulls
  • Calves sold at Dovecote 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 be at the forefront of environmental management?

When our higher-level stewardship ended, we moved into campaign stewardship. We have planted 45 ha (111 acres) of grassland rich in GS4 legumes, which contribute to the formation of soil organic matter.

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

The grasslands also provide food for the livestock, while giving us 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 for beef. In March, our carbon footprint was 26.77 kg carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e)/kg for beef (excluding soil carbon) compared to an Agrecalc 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 should reach 18 months this year. Financially, it’s good for me, but it’s also good for the environment.

This year we have generally finished cattle with grass and reduced the use of barley. This will reduce the number we need to house over a second winter, which will reduce costs.

What are you committing to do in 2022?

We’re going to reduce our use of nitrogen fertilizer because it’s a huge emitter of nitrous oxide. Planting legumes will help with this.

We will also be looking to direct seed grasses and see if we can do this with cereals as well.

Dairy

Tom Pattison, Willow Tree Farm, Thrintoft, North Yorkshire

Tom Pattisson

Tom Pattison © Arla Foods/Chris Rout

Farm Facts

willow farm

  • family farm
  • Approximately 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
  • Grow grass, corn and winter wheat
  • Cows housed and calving all year round

What steps have you taken to be at the forefront of environmental management?

A climate balance carried out last year by our milk buyer, Arla, showed that we had 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 changed our pneumonia vaccination policy, which reduced pneumonia by more than 50% and helped improve growth rates.

This means that we now serve heifers from 12 months and calves from 23 months. It also reduced the use of antibiotics.

I started testing heifer genomics and breeding the best heifers and cows with sexed semen and the rest with Aberdeen Angus.

We use a mating program and breed for profitable life index, mastitis resistance, yields, fat and protein.

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

How have these steps benefited your business?

By maximizing health and selecting for 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 business and our carbon footprint.

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

The solar panels have halved our electricity costs in the summer.

What are you committing to do in 2022?

We are working towards 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 for that.

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

We seek to use less fertilizer and make better use of slurry and sludge by targeting it to fields that need it, using soil testing.

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