Live like you will die tomorrow... farm like you will live forever!
Let’s get something straight...I am not a tree hugger! Now that is done, I am married to Sarah and have two daughters, Jess and Aimee, who have all been patient and supportive enough to allow me to combine my hobby and my career. At the time of initiating this study I was Head of Research and Development for DairyCo (formerly the Milk Development Council), the role where the subject of choice from my Nuffield study emanated. During and largely influenced by the study, I made the (scary) decision to leave DairyCo and establish my own livestock consultancy business. A major aspect of my work now focuses on seeking knowledge and identifying opportunities for the agricultural sector to be part of the solution to climate change rather than a cause.
Five years ago when speaking with dairy farmers about environmental issues as a whole, I was often given short shrift, and this saw limited interest in investing levy funds in new knowledge for this area of work. Now I regularly have dairy farmers, their representative organisations and supply chain parties contacting me on environmental issues, predominantly related to climate change.
The climate change challenge is integral to all that we do in cattle farming, so having the opportunity through a Nuffield Farming Scholarship to focus on the subject was an extremely exciting proposition. My gratitude goes to both Nuffield and The Trehane Trust, for their faith in me to deliver this study. I would also like to very much thank my wife Sarah and two of my best pals (daughters), Jess and Aimee for continuing to support and understand me being away from home even more than usual. The standard line in the house over the Nuffield study period was...’Where are you this week’? Thanks Guys!
The opportunity this study has provided me with is immense. People that I was able to meet on this adventure, I not only call acquaintances but colleagues, as many of the initiatives that I am now engaged with in my brave new world involves me working on an international basis and working closely with these influential people, which I find both fascinating but hugely motivating also. More on that at the end of this report.
Climate change and associated environmental issues in ruminant agriculture are a global issue. Individual countries are tackling these through a range of alternative investigation and mitigation strategies, many spending vast sums on often duplicated research and development projects in an attempt to not only meet climate change targets, but seek the ‘competitive edge’ for their unique circumstances be it at product or country level.
How often is agriculture and especially livestock (cattle) farming held up as an example of one of the main ‘causes’ of the climate change issue to an ill-informed public? Globally agriculture as a whole, not the ruminant sector alone, accounts for only 14% of the Green House Gas (GHG) emissions, but we are not good at defending or even promoting our industry as not a cause of climate change but indeed a potential solution!
This lack of ‘defence’ is directly correlated to lack of knowledge. Yes 14% of emissions come directly from agriculture, though when you link (like many studies do) the quantity of land use (deforestation) directly related to the production of foodstuffs for ruminants, the figure increases. The challenge we have as a sector is obtaining robust data and developing our arguments. The many studies that have been undertaken have applied different methodologies and therefore obtaining the necessary data is a big challenge, then building messages on the back of this is difficult. The amazing aspect of this is that so often those who challenge agriculture or even livestock production systems in relation to climate change are not using robust data, though due to the nature of the issue, it gets reported.
Many challenges from pressure groups rely solely on the outputs of the FAO Livestock’s Long Shadow Report published in 2006 where it stated about 7.1 billion tonnes CO2 equivalent or 18% of total anthropogenic GHG emissions (2/3 from extensive systems and 1/3 from intensive systems) arise from livestock agriculture.
This report itself was an over simplification of the issue (Gerber IDF Conference Berlin, 2009), and like many reports of its nature, has been continuously misinterpreted by the media and pressure groups who attribute this figure to just one species as opposed to the whole range. The report was written predominantly to act as a shot across the bows of developing nations indicating that as their livestock production systems develop, if they continue under current practices, they are unsustainable. This report certainly raised the issue of agriculture’s role in the global warming debate, which has therefore created a challenge for our sector in not just decreasing our emissions but rather generating the knowledge required to make the necessary link between emissions and food production forthe world’s population. So often we see emissions from livestock production equated to a number of cars ‘off the road’. My response is cars are a luxury, food is a necessity. Hence the purpose of this study.