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Grazing towards sustainability

Press release issued: 12 January 2016

The first international Global Farm Platform conference hosted by the University of Bristol this week [12 to 15 January] will highlight the benefits of utilising pasture and robust cows over high-yield, intensive systems.

Research findings from data shared between Vet School researcher, Professor Michael Lee and farmer, Neil Darwent, Director of the UK’s Free Range Dairy Community Interest Company (CIC), will form part of a keynote address to be given by Professor Lee tomorrow [Wednesday 13 January]. 

The Global Farm Platform is a multidisciplinary group of scientists working under the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) to find solutions to the major challenges facing global food security in the twenty first century.

The partnership is a new initiative to provide high-quality scientific investigation in centres of excellence around the world, allowing research to progress further and faster than would otherwise be possible working as individual institutions.

An important part of this work is the collaboration not just with scientists but also farmers. This is to ensure that knowledge from farmers contributes to the research agenda and dissemination of best practices and vice versa.

An example of the knowledge exchange between farmer and researcher is the data shared between Professor Lee and Neil Darwent, which compared the net margin generated by a robust cow managed on simple, pasture-based system with a high output cow managed under a more intensive regime.

The findings highlight that traditional measurement of dairy cow performance, in terms of milk output and margin over feed, is over simplistic and fails to provide a true assessment of animal performance and efficiency. Whilst at first glance, a more intensively managed cow appears to be more economically viable, further investigation reveals that attributes of more robust cows such as good health and fertility, the capacity to produce more valuable beef calves and the ability to thrive on a simple, low-cost system, can more than compensate for lower milk yields.

Professor Michael Lee, Chair in Sustainable Livestock Systems in the School of Veterinary Sciences at the University of Bristol and Head of Rothamsted Research, North Wyke site, said: “The Global Farm Platform is striving to develop sustainable solutions for ruminant livestock production as a crucial part of world food security. It is vital to realise that yield alone does not provide the most efficient or indeed sustainable solution. Cattle as ruminants should rely on pasture and home grown forages to provide a high proportion of their diet – such reliance on home grown feed is a clear route towards sustainability. This paper summarises the main benefits of maximising pasture intake in ruminant systems towards economic, environmental and social sustainability and the crucial role the North Wyke Farm Platform is playing.”

Further information

The presentation ‘Grazing towards sustainability’ by Professor  Michael Lee using data collected by Neil Darwent to show the benefits of utilising pasture and robust cows over high yield, intensive systems will take place on Wednesday 13 January at 9.20 am at At- Bristol Centre, Harbourside, Bristol  BS1 5DB.

The presentation is part of the international conference Steps to sustainable livestock hosted by the University of Bristol from Tuesday 12-Friday 15 January 2016.

About Free Range Dairy CIC
Free Range Dairy CIC is a community interest company that promotes a food and farming system that utilises pasture. Under its label the Pasture Promise it guarantees cows graze for at least six months of the year and farmers are paid a bonus for grazing their cows

About the Global Farm Platform
The Global Farm Platform partnership brings together the University of Alberta (Canada), the University of Bristol (UK), the CGIAR International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) Kansas State University (USA), Kerala Veterinary and Animal Science University (India), the Instituto National de Investigación Agropecuaria (INIA, Uruguay), The University of Leeds (UK), Massey University (New Zealand), Penn State University (USA), Rothamsted Research (UK), the Small Scale Livestock and Livelihoods Programme (Malawi), the University of Sydney (Australia), the University of Western Australia, the University of Wisconsin-Madison (USA) and Zhejiang University (China). The key partners already have a strong history of working together, and are each linked to a number of relevant institutions that will make further valuable contributions to the Global Farm Platform.

About Cabot Institute
The Cabot Institute carries out fundamental and responsive research on risks and uncertainties in a changing environment.  We drive new research in the interconnected areas of climate change, natural hazards, water and food security, low carbon energy, and future cities. Our research fuses rigorous statistical and numerical modelling with a deep understanding of social, environmental and engineered systems – past, present and future. We seek to engage wider society by listening to, exploring with, and challenging our stakeholders to develop a shared response to 21st century challenges.

About the Worldwide Universities Network
The Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) is a leading global higher education and research network made up of 18 universities spanning 11 countries on five continents. We work together to drive international research collaboration which address issues of global significance. WUN has 90 active research initiatives, engaging over 2,000 researchers and students collaborating on a diverse range of projects. These initiatives are committed to addressing some of the world’s most urgent challenges and are supported by prolific partners such as the United Nations Foundation, World Bank, OECD and World Health Organization.

More information on the WUN at Bristol.


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