Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) has today launched a practical guide for farmers, to help the sheep and beef sectors to make the most of Wales’s potential to lead the world in sustainable livestock farming.
Entitled Perfecting the Welsh Way, the document outlines a range of steps – from animal breeding and fertility to grassland management and nutrition – which could help achieve major reductions in the carbon footprint of sheep and beef farming.
The on-farm measures could cut direct emissions from the sheep sector by 20%, and Welsh agriculture could make an even bigger impact through additional measures such as increasing carbon sequestration in soils and generating renewable energy.
According to independent academic research first revealed in HCC’s Welsh Way vision released in late-2020, Wales is already one of the most sustainable places in the world to produce red meat, with its non-intensive farming based on abundant rainfall and grass growth which does not depend on imported feed.
The new document is aimed at helping the industry to improve further, to contribute to achieving the Welsh Government’s target of net zero by 2050, and ensure that consumers are given the choice to buy the most sustainable lamb and beef possible.
A major focus is grassland management. Grazed grassland, which is the large majority of agricultural land in Wales, can act as a carbon sink. Effective management of grassland will ensure both correct nutrition for cattle and sheep, while also helping to sequester carbon from the atmosphere.
As John Richards, HCC Industry Development and Relations Manager explained, a key conclusion of the work is that there is not one ‘silver bullet’ to making the most of Welsh agriculture’s potential to contribute to mitigating climate change, but that a range of measures taken together can lead to a substantial sustainability gain.
“When we commissioned independent research last year to assess where we stood in terms of sustainable farming, it was always our intention to take that a step further and give leadership to the sheep and beef sectors of how to get even better,” said Mr Richards.
“Through this practical guide, we can see that there are a wide range of improvements that farm businesses can make, with many of them being real ‘win-win’ initiatives that both help the environment and make farms more efficient and profitable,” he added.
“There are already some genuinely world-leading sustainability initiatives taking place on Welsh family farms,” explained Mr Richards. “By extending this best practice to the whole sector, we can make a real difference and help meet the sector’s obligations to mitigating climate change.”
Many of the measures contained in Perfecting the Welsh Way are based on a number of research projects being undertaken by HCC in conjunction with universities, project partners vets and farmers.
Beef and sheep farmer Aled Picton Evans takes part in both HCC’s Red Meat Development Programme and the UK-wide research project GrasscheckGB. At his farm near Whitland in Carmarthenshire, improvements have been made which both benefited the business and lowered its carbon footprint.
Effective soil and grassland management, maximising animal health and efficiency are key to the system, according to Mr Picton Evans.
“Our ultimate aim is to get as much output from grazed grass as we possibly can, to ensure the quality of production while minimising costs and reducing emissions,” he said. “Soil health helps carbon sequestration, and when this is taken into account net emissions can be half the average for a beef enterprise.”