Friday 28 January 2022

There are challenges and obstacles ahead for the ruminant sector, but opportunities are in abundance too. That was the overall message from speakers at the British Cattle Breeders Club (BCBC) annual conference ‘A Breath of Fresh Air’ this week.

Just under 1,000 delegates from across the UK and beyond registered to attend the virtual conference which included 16 presentations by experts from across the industry.

“Ruminant farmers deserve to be rewarded for the favour they are doing to other sectors,” said Oxford University’s Professor Myles Allen. Currently methane emissions from livestock are wrongly blamed for causing global warming, he said.

“The current way we measure the impact of methane on climate, simply isn’t fit for purpose.”

Carbon dioxide and methane have different effects on global temperatures but are incorrectly considered as equivalent under current measures used by Defra, he explained. When correctly assessed it could be seen that agriculture is no longer contributing to an increase in global temperatures, he said.

“That’s been achieved largely by falling methane emissions from the ruminant sector.

“We need to frame climate policy in terms of warming outcomes rather than emissions inputs.” The livestock sector should be arguing for being rewarded for its impact on global temperature, while also accepting that producers should be penalised for adverse impacts, he added.

Professor Jude Capper, ABP Chair of Sustainable Beef and Sheep Production at Harper Adams University highlighted the importance of considering economic viability and social accessibility as well as environmental responsibility within discussions on sustainability.

“If consumers aren’t happy with what we do on the farm, then ultimately we won’t have a market for our product,” she said.

Marks & Spencers’ Steve McLean agreed. Customers want high quality fresh products that offer superior value and great taste, he said.

Increasingly however, they want to ensure that we’re offering food that is healthy, sourced from livestock reared in high animal welfare conditions and coming from farms that are environmentally friendly.

“Personally, I think that is a real opportunity for UK farmers. We have some of the best animal welfare conditions in the world and we can farm in environmentally friendly ways that should ensure that the UK industry is at the forefront of sourcing decisions.”

Former Rugby Union referee and beef farmer Nigel Owens, kindly sponsored by CRV, spoke about the importance of good mental health for individuals, families and the wider industry.

“If you’re struggling, ask for help. It is not a sign of weakness,” he said. “We need to create an environment where people feel they can talk about it and not be judged and that it’s not going to be seen as a sign of weakness. It’s actually a sign of great strength to open up.”

He encouraged delegates to also consider their impact on others. “Never underestimate the influence you will have on people around you and the way you talk about people who are different.”

BCBC Chairman Dr Karen Wonnacott said: “On behalf of the BCBC committee, we would like to thank all of our delegates, speakers and sponsors for their time and continued support. We held a fantastic virtual conference with insightful and thought-provoking presentations from all. Plans are already underway for a return to an ‘in-person’ conference in Telford from 23 – 25 January 2023. We will look forward to seeing you.”