Mitigating the environmental impact of cattle and sheep: animal genetics and farmers' readiness for uptake

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Social and Political Science

Abstract

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Description This research sought to find out how sheep and beef cattle farmers might incorporate breeding technologies in their farming practices to reduce emissions of methane and thus climate change impact. Whilst many livestock farmers use current breeding technologies, a number of barriers to adoption of such technologies were raised by others.
The farmers interviewed consistently talked in terms of having developed practices which were appropriate for their environments, labour availability and the markets they were aiming to supply. The increasingly complex requirements for agriculture to meet aspirations in food production, ecosystem services and mitigating climate change requires a difficult balancing act to be achieved. Different types of farmer therefore responded in different ways to methane reduction initiatives. Specialist beef (and lesser extent sheep) farmers saw improved production efficiency as the way forward. Farmers selling direct to consumers or relying heavily on environmental payments preferred to consider practices which increase carbon storage e.g. pasture management.
Farmers interviewed found it difficult to accept the assertion that methane produced by cattle and sheep is a major contributor to global warming. They did not find figures quoted for methane emissions, particularly from grass fed animals, to be credible, and they viewed methane as a natural and inevitable part of farming sheep and cattle.
These data suggest that in order to achieve reductions in methane emissions, policy action needs to be sufficiently flexible to meet the needs of farming communities in different contexts.
Exploitation Route There has been considerable interest in this project from relevant policymakers, animal breeding industry and the food industry suggesting this research is contributing to the ongoing debate across the beef and sheep industry sector. This research has identified major barriers to voluntary uptake of methane reduction measures and has also suggested alternative strategies for action that is appropriate to different sectors. The degree of interest demonstrated by a range of stakeholders suggests that these results will contribute in meaningful ways. The response from the workshop questionnaires and feedback from sheep breeders for example suggests that this research has provided stakeholders with new insights on the issue. This project has endeavoured to ensure pathways to impact are in place by involving stakeholders throughout the project.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

 
Description The research project has contributed to policy formulation by informing the development of sections of the UK's Committee on Climate Change's 5th Carbon Budget. The information fed directly into a barriers matrix which has been developed to translate maximum technical potential for mitigation technologies into scenarios of feasible potential. The outputs of this research materially impacted on the analysis.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Oral evidence given to UK Parliament Scottish Affairs Committee enquiry on Future of Scottish Agriculture
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tz4rPtZl-TA
 
Description Peer review of Defra Evidence Statement on benefits and trade-offs of cattle farming in pasture-based and housed systems
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description Breeding to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions - farmers' perspectives 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Invited speaker at Defra's Food Supply Chain Mitigation Workshop
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Fewer burps in your burgers? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited speaker at Scottish Agricultural College with video link to their seven sites
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Methane emissions from sheep and cattle 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A stakeholder workshop held in June 2011 to test out project findings. Attended by 13 participants.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Methane, animal breeding and beef and sheep farmers' readiness for uptake 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk at European Federation of Animal Science, Stavanger, Norway 29/8/11
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Methane, animal breeding, and beef and sheep farmers - is it all a lot of hot air? 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation of findings to stakeholders.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Sheep farmers and why they don't like using EBVs 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk to AGM of performance recorded Blackface sheep breeders to help them understand why most of the Blackface farmers do not adopt EBVs.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Sheep farmers and why they don't like using EBVs 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Talk to Blackface sheep breeders (performance recording group)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Workshop on meeting the challenge of sustainable ruminant feed 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact An interdisciplinary, stakeholder engagement event to look at supplying ruminant feed more sustainably. From a post-workshop questionnaire: 82% had at leas one new insight into the challenges of sustainable ruminant feed, 82% helped clarify thoughts, 82% thought about a strategic response to the question in at least one new way, 91% made at least one new poentially useful contact. 43% of attendees were from industry.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014