Disease? Not On My Farm! Ambassador Blog
Farmer insights on sustainability
With Government targets to be Net Zero by 2050 and a recent Ruminant Health & Welfare paper highlighting the diseases that have the biggest impact on methane emissions – introducing ‘greener’ farming practices and operating sustainably is more important than ever. Disease? Not On My Farm! asked our followers on Twitter to share their views on what sustainability means to them.
Here, we review the answers and provide some top tips from our ambassadors on how they plan to achieve their sustainability goals.
1. What would help you be more sustainable as a farm business?
Operating sustainably can be challenging, especially as there are so many areas to consider. We asked our followers which of the four factors listed would be the best source of advice to help their farm business:
- Guidance from government
- Independent expert advice
- Farmer workshops
- Advice in farming media
It was a close vote, with ‘independent expert advice’ and ‘farmer workshops’ both getting 42% of the votes.
Knowledge sharing in the farming community can be incredibly beneficial. It’s one of the reasons why our Disease? Not On My Farm! ambassadors meet for a virtual roundtable every quarter to discuss the topical issues of the day. One of these issues is sustainability.
Dairy ambassador, Jess Langton says she has sought help from experts, particularly when challenged with creating her family farm’s business sustainability goal to reduce emissions, as a way to be a part of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI).
“Our sustainability focus in our dairy herd is mainly reducing methane and ammonia. We’ve signed up for the SFI and are planting peas and oats to cut down on cattle corn. We use strip grazing to utilise grass better in spring and we’re thinking about planting herbal leys.
“There’s also a link between genetics and sustainability which interests me,” she adds. “We’re looking to improve overall cow efficiency. The more efficient the cow, the less emissions are emitted per kilo of meat or litre of milk. Disease prevention is part of that because disease reduces productivity. So, protecting and preventing infection will increase yields from a dairy perspective.”
2. Do you think farmers have a responsibility to be more sustainable?
With the increased focus on environmental issues in the sector, comes increased media attention – both in the farming and consumer press. We asked followers if they think farmers are accountable.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, 100% of the voters agreed that farmers have a responsibility for operating more sustainably. Doing so can have multiple positive benefits, not just ecologically, but also in terms of increased efficiencies – making farm enterprises more productive in the long term.
However, despite the good intentions of most British farmers, ambassador Ian Alderson from Shropshire believes that the sector sometimes fails to tell the positive stories that are happening on farms up and down the UK.
“As so many of us have farmed for a long time, it is clearly a sustainable enterprise,” says Ian. “Some of the mainstream media see us as an easy target and we don’t always get our story over well enough,” he says.
3. What’s your primary motivation for making your farm business more sustainable?
We wanted to know the main reason why farmers are looking to make their businesses more sustainable, from the following four options:
- Government policies
- Economic viability
- Environmental benefits
- Social pressures
The results were close, with 35% identifying ‘environmental benefits’ as their key driver, while 31% chose ‘economic viability’. For dairy ambassador, Gemma King, there’s no single priority.
“We have really embraced renewable energy as well as reducing our environmental impact. We have 50kw of solar panels on the dairy which helps run the machinery on farm, as well as feeding back into the grid. It’s helps us to be more sustainable and provides consumers with renewable energy as well. We should all be farming for the future,” Gemma says.
4. Which areas are you prioritising when it comes to farming sustainability?
In a rapidly changing world; farmers and growers need to be resilient to these changes and continue to produce food that is trusted and produced sustainably. We therefore wanted to know which of the following areas is the key focus among dairy, beef and sheep farmers:
- Renewable energy sources
- Producing healthy animals
- Reducing inputs
- Reducing emissions
It’s encouraging to learn that ‘producing healthy animals’ topped the list with 41% of the votes, with ‘reducing inputs’ only getting 13% of the votes. However, with current economic uncertainty and rising costs, this seems likely to be an increasing concern for many famers.
For ambassador Tim Cooke, operating efficiently is essential to being a sustainable sheep producer.
“I think about getting more from grass and reducing fertiliser inputs; introducing more clover and producing more from muck,” says Tim. “It’s also linked to keeping costs down while doing so. For us, that means outside lambing to get away from shed lambing so we transition to needing less labour and to a simpler system. I think it’s quite exciting and interesting, working with nature to do things to maximise productivity and use less chemicals.”
To feed a growing world population, livestock farming today is expected to produce more food than ever before, from fewer resources and with the smallest possible impact on our environment. Productive, sustainable livestock farming can be achieved by balancing three necessary components – economic viability, environmental responsibility, and social acceptability1. Healthy livestock play a crucial role in delivering on all three aspects.
If you’re interested in learning more about sustainability in the sector, read our white paper 'Healthy livestock produce sustainable food'.
Whatever sustainability goals you set yourself in the coming years, you can keep us updated by sharing your latest updates on our social media channels:
1. Pope, J., Annandale, D., and Morrison-Saunders, A. 2004. Conceptualising sustainability assessment. Environmental Impact Assessment Review 24:595-616.