Silvopastoral system proposed for livestock production

New research states that the future of sustainable livestock production could lie in the use of pastures with shrubs and trees.

The report from the University of Cambridge explained that using silvopastoral systems could help the decrease in biodiversity, which is caused by removing trees and shrubs and using herbicides on cleared pastures, with only herbaceous plants for cattle production.

The current method also causes contamination of soil and waterways by agricultural chemicals, as well as carbon costs due to vehicles and artificial fertiliser, which can be prevented with the new system.

According to the research, farming is the main culprit of the decline in biodiversity and has come into focus after demands for higher standards are increasing and consumers are interested in the welfare of both animals and the environment.

Many of today’s widely-used livestock production methods are unsustainable and cattle production occurs on cleared pastures, with only foods such as grasses grown for the cows.

Leading the research was Professor Donald Broom from the University of Cambridge, who said: “Consumers are now demanding more sustainable and ethically sourced food, including production without negative impacts on animal welfare, the environment and the livelihood of poor producers. Silvopastoral systems address all of these concerns, with the added benefit of increased production in the long term.”

According to the researchers, the silvopastoral landscape “promotes healthy soil with better water retention (and less run-off), encourages predators of harmful animals, minimises greenhouse gas emissions, improves job satisfaction for farm workers, reduces injury and stress in animals, improves welfare and encourages biodiversity using native shrubs and trees”.

National Farmers’ Union chief livestock adviser Pete Garbutt said: “We will read the report with interest. Farmers and growers already do a great deal of work on-farm to protect and support the environment, while fulfilling multiple demands, but also to grow more food to feed a growing population.”

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