An innovative trial to offer UK dairy farmers attractive subsidies that support growing feed more sustainably for their livestock, has been launched by Tesco and WWF.
Through the scheme, created to help reduce the environmental impact of the average shopping basket, 15 farmers in Tesco’s Sustainable Dairy Group (TSDG) have been given an 80 per cent seed subsidy to plant herbal leys – a soil enriching grass mix of plants, legumes and herbs which is used as feed for dairy cows.
The seed mix has a number of benefits over conventional grass fields including:
- Increase on-farm biodiversity: different plant species attract a range of insects and pollinators, as well as birds and other wildlife.
- Reduce carbon footprint: some of the legumes take in nitrogen so do not need as much artificial nitrogen fertiliser to grow. Over time, they also sequester more carbon in the soil than conventional ryegrasses.
- Improve soil health: different plant species have varied and deeper rooting structures than conventional ryegrasses. This in turn increases resilience in the face of adverse weather conditions like drought.
- Improved water quality: improved root structures minimise soil erosion and fertiliser run-off.
- Improve animal health: different plant species provide nutritious food for the animals and can even increase immunity from some diseases.
Even though cows are responsible for two per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, given Britain’s love of milk, finding a way to reduce the carbon emissions associated with dairy farming, while also increasing biodiversity could lessen their environmental impact.
The herbal leys trial is part of a wider set of measures being introduced by Tesco, designed to emphasise the importance of cutting carbon emissions and improving biodiversity on farms.
Tesco dairy farmers have reduced their carbon emissions by 6.5% since 2016. Tesco has now introduced a new emissions reduction target with the aim of helping TSDG farmers reduce their emissions by a further 10% by 2025. Plans to improve soil quality, water usage and biodiversity will also be implemented on each TSDG farm.
Among the first to take up the trial are farmers Amie and Chris Lovatt, who run a farm near Macclesfield in Cheshire.
Amie Lovatt said: “We jumped at the chance to be included in the trial as it’s important that we all have to find the balance between producing affordable and healthy food and looking after the environment we live in.
“We believe that herbal leys could provide a perfect answer to that as not only will they improve soil health and structure thanks to their deep roots but are also less reliant on artificial fertilisers.”
Tesco Agriculture Manager, Tom Atkins said: “We’re immensely proud of the work our dairy farmers do and the great quality milk they provide to our customers.
“We want to ensure we’re doing all we can to continue to support our farmers and, in this critical decade for climate and nature, help make our dairy farms some of the most sustainable in the world. We will continue to work with our farmers to both reduce carbon emissions and continue to increase the amount of biodiversity on farm. We will also be working together on more innovative initiatives like our herbal leys project, which should bring huge benefits in terms of soil health and biodiversity.”
So far 15 farms are involved in the project, and if this initial project is successful, there could be an opportunity for more TSDG farmers to take part with Tesco and WWF looking to subsidise seed costs for the next two years.
WWF Sustainable Agriculture Specialist, Callum Weir said: “UK farmers have an important role to play in bringing back nature to our landscape via sustainable farming practices. Nature-based solutions such as herbal leys can play a role in tackling climate change and help support WWF and Tesco’s shared goal of halving the environmental impact of the average shopping basket.”
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