Recently published

Fiona M. Seaton, Robert I. Griffiths, Tim Goodall, Inma Lebron, Lisa R. Norton. 2022.
Pasture age impacts soil fungal composition while bacteria respond to soil chemistry. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 330, 107900, ISSN 0167-8809. DOI: 10.1016/j.agee.2022.107900.

Pasture fed livestock and ecological condition of grassland

  • Grassland on PFLA member farms was generally allowed to grow tall and contained a wide range of legume and forb species and relatively low proportions of ryegrass compared to Improved Grassland.
  • However, soil properties on PFLA fields were not significantly different from those for Improved Grassland fields.

Contextual analysis of data from grassland in the UK Countryside Survey indicated that:

  • Higher covers of ryegrass were associated with lower soil carbon concentration and moisture.
  • Higher plant species richness was positively associated with the numbers of invertebrates found in soil, and soil Nitrogen and Carbon.

Flower-rich grass sward

Grassland on PFLA member farms was generally allowed to grow tall and contained a wide range of non-grass plant species

Mob grazing

  • Farmers were labelling a range of practices as ‘mob grazing’,  many were new to the practice and adapting it to their specific systems over time.
  • Key variables differentiating practices were; stocking densities, number and length of grazings and lengths of rest periods.
  • Farmers at different stages of the ‘mob grazing journey’ observed various benefits, including sustainability of livestock production, soil and ecosystem health and animal health.
  • Long term data from one intensively mob grazed site indicated significant shifts in soil and vegetation following the adoption of mob grazing.

Farmer with his cows

Mob grazed cattle

Soil fungal and bacterial composition

  • Grazing management had only limited effects upon microbial community structure.
  • Grassland duration impacted the fungal community structure.
  • The impact of grassland duration was conditional upon soil physicochemical properties, particularly pH.
  • Plant community impacts upon soil bacterial and fungal composition appeared to interact with soil chemistry, highlighting the importance of plant-soil interactions in determining microbial community structure.
  • Far more fungal taxa responded to multiple ecosystem health associated properties than bacterial taxa.
  • Several fungal taxa acted as indicators of soil health related properties within both the PFLA dataset and within a contextual grassland soils dataset from the UK Countryside Survey.

Soil sampling

Soil samples indicated the importance of plant-soil interactions in determining microbial community structure

Holistic assessment of pasture fed systems

  • PFLA farmers, farms and enterprises are highly variable, with a substantial proportion focused solely on livestock production.
  • PFLA farms produce a wide range of public goods including healthy landscapes, habitats, soils and livestock and tend to have very low input and fossil fuel use.
  • Benchmarking of economic productivity revealed that PFLA farmers perform better in terms of cattle production than non-PFLA farmers.
  • PFLA farmers are seeking to optimise production and minimise inputs and are doing so in shared innovative processes focused on the wellbeing of their livestock, their land, their families and themselves.

PG Tool example output

PFLA farms produce a wide range of public goods alongside cattle production

Investigating pasture fed transitions with stakeholder groups

  • Two workshops (one with the PFLA Research group and one with stakeholders representing more conventional beef production systems such as NFU and AHDB) were held. During the workshops we outlined the key components of the different systems and in follow-up work we investigated the potential impacts of a 100% conversion to pasture fed beef production in the UK using an approach called Fuzzy Cognitive Mapping (FCM).
  • The FCMs indicated that vegetation quality, grass use efficiency and soil health were central components of the pasture fed system. Economic and regulatory factors as well as climate change targets were more central to conventional systems.
  • Under the 100% conversion scenario the most marked changes predicted by the stakeholders representing more conventional systems were:
    • an increase in income from subsidies (27.3%)
    • a decrease in the ability to export produce (23.5%)
    • a decrease in the ratio of land use for farming versus other uses (11.23%)
    • a decrease in the proportion of feed from non-human edible (waste) sources (7.5%) within the beef sector.
  • Hence these stakeholders assessed that upscaling the pasture fed approach would reduce productivity but increase public goods provision and reduce feed-food competition in the UK.

Grassland management with pasture fed systems

  • Management was found to vary significantly between PFLA farms across the UK, including a range of different pasture characteristics, ages, seed mix usage, fertilisation practices and stocking methods which were site and farmer-specific.
  • Several associations were found between management practices and soil and vegetation quality indicators, predominantly relating to land use intensity and the loss or accumulation of soil organic matter and changes in soil bulk density.
  • Pasture for Life certification appeared to encourage low intensity management, predominance of permanent pasture over temporary leys and mob and paddock/strip stocking.

Group of young cattle

Pasture for Life certification appeared to encourage low intensity management, predominance of permanent pasture over temporary leys and mob and paddock/strip stocking

Publications

Project results are being compiled into a number of academic papers.

Published

  • Fiona M. Seaton, Robert I. Griffiths, Tim Goodall, Inma Lebron, Lisa R. Norton. 2022.
    Pasture age impacts soil fungal composition while bacteria respond to soil chemistry. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 330, 107900, ISSN 0167-8809. DOI: 10.1016/j.agee.2022.107900.

In progress

  • Can Pasture fed livestock farming practices improve the ecological condition of grassland in Great Britain? (Norton, L.R., Maskell, L.C., Wagner, M., Wood, C.M., Pinder, A.P., Brentegani, M.) Submitted to Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment.
  • Mob grazing in the UK: a diversity of practice. (Wagner, M., Waterton, C., Norton, L.R.) Submitted to Ecology and Society.
  • Learning from innovative practitioners: a holistic assessment of pasture fed livestock systems. (Norton, L.R., Cloy, J.M., McVittie, A., Morgan-Davies, C., Smith, L., Wagner, M., Waterton, C., Watson, C.) Awaiting submission (Aug 2021).
  • Investigating the potential impact of transitioning to a UK-wide pasture-fed beef production system in the UK using Fuzzy Cognitive Mapping. (Rowe, E., Norton, L.R. Smith, L.) Awaiting submission (Aug 2021).
  • Grassland management under Pasture Fed Livestock management. (Cloy, J.M., Gregory. M. Wagner, M., Watson, C., Norton, L.) Awaiting submission (Aug 2021).

We are also considering additional publications using results from the consumer workshops and scientific challenges of system research approaches. A further joint, programme-level publication reflecting a workshop on pasture based approaches is in advanced stages of preparation:

  • Identifying levers for change in UK grazing livestock systems. (Norton L.R., Bruce, A., Chapman, P.J., Lamprinopoulou, C., Rothwell, S., Smith, L.) Awaiting submission to Ambio (Aug 2021).