‘Environmentalists seem hell-bent on removing animals’ – Norfolk cattle farmer defends his industry after climate warnings

PUBLISHED: 12:00 21 October 2018 | UPDATED: 06:54 22 October 2018

Farmer James Runciman with some of his cattle at Croxton Farm. Picture: Ian Burt

Farmer James Runciman with some of his cattle at Croxton Farm. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant 2018

After the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that a reduction in meat consumption and changes to farming are needed to save the planet, Norfolk cattle farmer JAMES RUNCIMAN defends livestock’s role in the ecosystem.

Britain was, and still is, known as the stock yard of the world, but environmentalists seem hell-bent on removing animals and planting trees.

The environment and climate change are at the forefront of media reports, and livestock production is all too often targeted as a contributor.

One opinion is to have a meat-free day or, more extreme, is to go vegetarian. You could plant trees instead of farming livestock, but I’d rather eat a steak than wood.

We could import soya to replace meat protein, however this would see more emissions being produced, but in another country. It is often forgotten that livestock graze plants that capture carbon, forming a cycle. Humans create a dead end to the cycle.

These animals utilise land that cannot grow food for direct human consumption. Instead the animals convert the plants that are not digestible by humans into a high-quality protein source, meat. This meat can be part of a healthy, balanced diet, while being environmentally friendly.

Our consumers are becoming more aware of how their food is produced, and a forage-based diet is linked to higher quality meat.

Foraged-based livestock production would free more grains for human consumption, but needs efficient pasture management balanced with environmental protection. Currently this relationship is governed by Natural England, and is skewed too far towards environmental objectives rather than a balance of livestock, business and environment.

After all, the current ecosystems have evolved over centuries of farming, and to select a single target to conserve in an ecosystem sees the whole system fall out of sync.

Individually as farmers we need to look at our efficiency and challenge our decisions. Breeding needs to be based on figures, cost of production needs to be benchmarked and medicine use needs to be minimised.

With Brexit looming and the new Agriculture Bill, we need to be as efficient as possible and produce to the highest quality possible to protect our home market from cheap, lesser-quality imports.

Our consumers are becoming more discerning and we need to educate them about our practices to avoid media scares and to keep their confidence in our superior quality produce over cheaper imports, which are produced to the detriment of welfare and the environment.

UK livestock is produced to the Red Tractor standard, an internationally-recognised standard that evokes the highest consumer confidence in welfare and production methods.

The future is positive but will need individuals to take part in education, open their doors, use social media, drive efficiencies through data collection and see the perspective of their customers.

• James Runciman farms at Croxton near Fakenham, and is a member of the National Farmers’ Union’s regional livestock board.

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