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Roles of instrumented farm-scale trials in trade-off assessments of pasture-based ruminant production systems

  • T. Takahashi (a1) (a2), P. Harris (a1), M. S. A. Blackwell (a1), L. M. Cardenas (a1), A. L. Collins (a1), J. A. J. Dungait (a1), J. M. B. Hawkins (a1), T. H. Misselbrook (a1), G. A. McAuliffe (a1) (a2), J. N. McFadzean (a1) (a3), P. J. Murray (a1), R. J. Orr (a1), M. J. Rivero (a1), L. Wu (a1) and M. R. F. Lee (a1) (a2)...


For livestock production systems to play a positive role in global food security, the balance between their benefits and disbenefits to society must be appropriately managed. Based on the evidence provided by field-scale randomised controlled trials around the world, this debate has traditionally centred on the concept of economic-environmental trade-offs, of which existence is theoretically assured when resource allocation is perfect on the farm. Recent research conducted on commercial farms indicates, however, that the economic-environmental nexus is not nearly as straightforward in the real world, with environmental performances of enterprises often positively correlated with their economic profitability. Using high-resolution primary data from the North Wyke Farm Platform, an intensively instrumented farm-scale ruminant research facility located in southwest United Kingdom, this paper proposes a novel, information-driven approach to carry out comprehensive assessments of economic-environmental trade-offs inherent within pasture-based cattle and sheep production systems. The results of a data-mining exercise suggest that a potentially systematic interaction exists between ‘soil health’, ecological surroundings and livestock grazing, whereby a higher level of soil organic carbon (SOC) stock is associated with a better animal performance and less nutrient losses into watercourses, and a higher stocking density with greater botanical diversity and elevated SOC. We contend that a combination of farming system-wide trials and environmental instrumentation provides an ideal setting for enrolling scientifically sound and biologically informative metrics for agricultural sustainability, through which agricultural producers could obtain guidance to manage soils, water, pasture and livestock in an economically and environmentally acceptable manner. Priority areas for future farm-scale research to ensure long-term sustainability are also discussed.

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Table S1 and Figures S1-S2

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