Scientific challenge: 

To evaluate the agronomic and social impacts of the Pasture for Life (PfL) certified approach to grazing management and its potential as the basis of a sustainable GB wide system

Project overview: 

Aims:

1. To assess the ecological and agronomic dimensions of PfL approaches in terms of their current and potential inputs, outputs and impact.

2. To assess the social and economic dimensions of PfL approaches and their role in the sustainability of the grazing management systems.

3. To assess the extent to which the PfL innovations rely on being part of a systemic approach to livestock management and whether individual practices could be applied more widely to improve performance within the ruminant livestock sector.

Results: 

The results of the project will:

  • Provide evidence about the benefits of pasture fed livestock approaches for those farming grazing livestock, consumers of PfL products and wider publics
  • Identify key factors which influence 'agricultural innovators' to take bold steps towards novel management practices
  • Provide information on possible mechanisms for supporting 'agricultural innovators' in their enterprises
The prospect of a resilient, agriculturally productive, grassland landscape which is storing carbon, preserving water quality and enhancing biodiversity is a compelling one for farmers, governments and wider publics.

 

Project Background

Grassland systems dominating the agricultural landscape in GB are largely economically unproductive, ecologically degraded, dominated by a single grass species, organic carbon poor and heavily reliant on inputs to maintain productivity. System impacts are often felt beyond field boundaries with slurry and P and N pollution from intensive practices leaking into water bodies and impacting on nutrient status and species diversity. Changing to sustainable systems through innovation can rely on cues from the natural environment. Naturally productive systems which support large numbers of grazing livestock have provided inspiration for Pasture for Life (PfL) certified producers to adopt pasture management practices which mimic those systems. Methods include approaches such as 'herbal leys and diverse swards' and 'mob grazing' which can potentially extend the grazing season whilst providing environmental, economic and livestock benefits in terms of health and productivity.

The proposed research aims to evaluate the ecological, agronomic and social impacts of the pasture fed livestock approach to grazing management and its potential as the basis of a sustainable GB-wide system. To achieve this, an experienced interdisciplinary research team has designed a project that will deliver a formal assessment of the agronomic, socio-ecological and sustainability and resilience aspects of Pasture Fed Livestock Association (PFLA) members farm systems and the social systems in which they are embedded (including industry bodies and citizen-consumers) through a combined set of social and natural science research methodologies. The team will work closely with producers and their supporting organisations (including the PFLA) to assess sustainability criteria covering a broad spectrum of sixty PLFA enterprises and to assess specific management practices, like 'mob grazing' on a smaller number of (15-20) Pasture for Life (PfL) certified enterprises.

The work will seek to identify the motivations, knowledges and ways of learning of the agricultural innovators employing these approaches. It will also investigate the role of governance structures surrounding farms as well as considering their agronomic and ecological impacts. The evaluation will include an assessment of PFLA enterprises within the context of current grassland/grazing management practices. It will investigate the broad range of public goods delivered by PFLA farms - from the animal products themselves to the impacts of the farming practices on aesthetic values and carbon sequestration.

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Funders: 

  • Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council
  • Economic & Social Research Council
  • Natural Environment Research Council
  • Scottish Government

Partners: 

  • Centre for Ecology & Hydrology
  • Lancaster University
  • Natural England
  • SRUC