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Executive Director's Message

This week I have been in Chicago again at the SAI platform annual event on the subject of next generation farming and resilient farming systems. With the help of NCBA and the Illinois Beef Association, we took a tour out to La Salle County on Wednesday to visit three producers. Two had re-introduced cattle into their farming systems to increase the resilience and enable their businesses to retain the next generation on the farm.

It was really interesting to hear how bringing cattle back onto what had been otherwise cropping enterprises had reduced the reliance on external inputs, made better use of the soil types available and increased organic matter in the soils.

As cropping has moved towards low or no till, and the use of cover crops has increased, cattle integrate well into the production system and make more efficient use of the resources on farm, and reduce the need imported nitrogen. The benefits however considerably exceeded simply the nitrogen value of manure, and on one farm a step up in performance was seen in each crop field as manure was incorporated.


     



All three of these producers talked about the value of no till and manure in improving soil structure and condition. This spring and early summer has been exceptionally wet, so both corn and soybean crops are off to a very delayed start, which has left much of the land in the county exposed to heavy rainfall.

The difference between the fields that received regular manure and are not tilled and those that are being farmed conventionally was demonstrated to us graphically in a short film of a recent rainfall even. The no till, manured field showed no visible ponding or runoff except at the field gate, whereas an adjacent field under conventional cropping was discharging large quantities of water and soil into a nearby creek.

On Thursday I moderated a session on animal welfare, in which we were fortunate to be able to hear from three leading names in the animal welfare field, Temple Grandin, Candace Croney and Robin Ganzert. Sadly Trent Hendricks, a Savory Hub leader and owner of Cabriejo ranch was unable to join us due to a last minute flight cancellation.

Dr Grandin shared her insights from many years of experience and emphasised the three complementary approaches to ensuring animal welfare in supply chains, namely auditing against clear measurable criteria (e.g. Lameness or other chronic pain issues, use of analgesics for painful procedures etc), internal control systems, and “getting the suits out of the office” i.e. developing familiarity with the entire supply chain through regular visits.

She emphasised that you can never eliminate all problems, but you can act rapidly to rectify problems, and eliminate suppliers where there is evidence of abuse.

Dr Croney talked about public perceptions and the concerns of consumers, which fall into two categories: scientific and ethical. While addressing scientific concerns is certainly feasible, ethical considerations are more of a challenge, because individual attitudes to what constitutes ethical behaviour do vary.

One thing is certain, and that is that if people anywhere within the supply chain find something to be marginal, many consumers will find it absolutely unacceptable. Once consumers attitudes have been influenced by exposure to one incident, their perceptions to everything that the company concerned does will be affected for a long time. In in the consumer’s mind, all aspects of sustainability, environment, health and safety and social justice are interrelated. This supports GRSB’s approach to sustainability in which we cannot achieve sustainability for people, planet, profit and animals without addressing all of our principles.

Dr Ganzert runs American Humane and talked about the value of certification, as self reporting is not credible in the eyes of the consumer (reflecting Dr Grandins three pronged approach), and underlined that what the consumer is looking for is the space to buy a product that they feel reflects their values. This is not to say that industry has to act on the whim of the consumer, but we do need to be able to demonstrate that issues have been considered and not simply dismissed out of hand. All in all the session was well recived and was useful in in terms of how we might think of welfare when we come to setting goals for GRSB.

As I mentioned on our board of directors call last week, we also have the final report from Viresco Solutions on the first phase of our GHG project. I urge you to read this, and particularly to share it with GHG experts within your organisation. It will form the basis of the second phase of work, in which we want to involve all of our members. The report is public and is accessible on our website.

Please find the full external report HERE.

The annexes are intended for GRSB members only.The internal version of the report is HERE and the recommendations to GRSB are HERE, in the members area of the site. If you do not know your login details to the members area, please request them and they will be automatically sent to you.

Thanks, 

Ruaraidh Petre
Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef
Executive Director

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