Climate change and ruminant agriculture in the UK

Charles Newbold, Kirsty Dougal

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


There is still a great deal of uncertainty as to effects of climate change on the ruminant sector in the UK, however it is likely that: • With the possible exception of intensive dairy farming in the south of the country, heat stress is unlikely to be major issue for UK ruminant agriculture in the next 60 years (M). However, dairy farms in the south will either need to invest in infrastructure to combat heat stress, or be replaced by new operations in thenorth. (L) • Generally forage yields may increase by up to 35% by 2050 (M) and growing seasons will lengthen by up to 75 days (M), however southern England is likely to become less suitable for growth of forage or traditional feed crops (M). • There will be increased cost and volatility in the supply of supplementary protein and energy crops imported into the country to support livestock farming (H) although this might be partially offset by the availability of by-products from the biofuel industry suitable for feeding to ruminants (M) • Changing climate conditions in the UK may mean this is partially countered by the ability to grow maize further north than is now possible (L) and by the emergence of new protein and energy crops and the development of new forage varieties with enhanced energy and protein concentrations (M) . • A possible increase in extreme weather events will further exacerbate the volatility in animal feeds both in terms of imported feed but also forage quality and quantity within the UK (M) • Extreme weather events may be particularly of concern at key times in relation to operations such as lambing (precipitation events), or breeding of cows (heatinfluence) (M). There is also a probability although with a lesser degree of certainty that: • Increased competition for land used for 1) human edible crops 2) biofuel crop growth (although this is likely to be offset by the availability of by-products suitable for use in ruminant diets, and 3) non-agriculture pressures e.g. infrastructure, flood risk management & housing may displace ruminant agriculture in some situations (L). • Novel and possibly increased levels of pests, disease and mycotoxins are likely to impact the quality of feed available to ruminant stock (L). • Emerging disease, particularly those transferred via insect vectors, may result in costly disease outbreaks (L). • Extreme weather events might limit available grazing or ability of livestock to graze (M). • Extreme rainfall events leading to erosion and nutrient leaching will make some land uneconomical or unsustainable to farm (M). To counter these challenges the UK ruminant sector could: • Increase the diversification of farm activities including a greater reliance on mixed farming systems, when appropriate, to limit the vulnerability to single points of failure. • Develop crop/ forage varieties/species for increased thermal/drought tolerance together with new forage varieties to increase water retention in the soil so reducing flood risk during extreme weather events. • Develop new grazing management systems to maximise gains and decrease the risk of soil damage and pathogen build-up. • Improve nutritional management to maximise the utilisation of new and novel feed sources. • Improve disease surveillance of existing and emerging disease to allow management interventions to be applied at a farm level and policy interventions to be applied at a governmental level. • Develop production systems that benefit from longer grazing seasons and potentially higher pasture yields.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAgriculture and Forestry Climate Change Impacts Summary Report, Living With Environmental Change
EditorsJ. I. L. Morision, R. B. Mathews
PublisherNatural Environment Research Council
ISBN (Electronic)978-0-9934074-0-6
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jun 2016


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