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Global research seeks to enhance pastoral resilience in Australian rangelands
Pastoralists play a vital role in creating synergy between agriculture and conservation, and greater recognition of the ecological services they provide will make enterprises more resilient to climate shocks as livestock production becomes more variable. That’s according to South Australian pastoralist and veterinarian, Ellen Litchfield, who investigated the environmental and socio-political impacts of climate change on pastoral enterprises in the Australian rangelands, looking at methods to increase the resilience of these systems.
With support from Westpac Agribusiness, Dr Litchfield travelled across China, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Germany, Ireland, UK, Italy, Canada, USA, Kenya and South Africa to see how producers across the world are adapting to harsh climatic stressors. She met with producers operating in harsh climates to identify systems that work in harmony with their environment and deliver benefits to enterprises.
“Producers need to look for ways to capitalise on the unique opportunities their environment presents by utilising climate adapted species, recognising the ecological importance of biodiversity and continual business innovation. In Hudson’s Hope, British Columbia, I visited Venator Ranch which had successfully created a market for Bison in northern Canada, an area with harsh climatic conditions. Recognising the benefits of running livestock that’s well adapted to the environment, the ranch owners decided to integrate Bison into their cattle operation. In contrast to bovines, Bison are perfectly adapted to winter as they decrease their metabolic rate in the cold. With only a small Bison market existing in the region, they started their own brand, Frontier Bison, which they capitalise on to market their herd, connect with consumers and ensure the operation’s future.”
Dr Litchfield explored the importance of agriculture and conservation having a synergistic relationship, to ensure both production and environmental goals are met.
“Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya has found success in grazing cattle amongst elephants, allowing for greater economic stability by integrating the needs of conservation and agriculture. They integrated Boran cattle onto the conservancy, a Kenyan breed that is well adapted to the environmental conditions and has a strong herding instinct which makes them easier to graze and manage at night. Ol Pejeta’s system demonstrates that when grazed correctly, ruminants can reap ecological benefits and enhance biodiversity by working synergistically with conservation efforts.”
Dr Litchfield said it’s vital Australia implements evolving and innovative business models in the rangelands that facilitate greater resilience to climatic stressors, compared to existing static production systems.
“The arid and semi-arid rangelands of Australia are one of the world’s most volatile climates, and climate change will result in further prolonged droughts, posing a significant threat to the productivity of pastoralism in these regions. Pastoralists need to recognise the risks associated with the continued rise of temperatures and prolonged periods of drought due to climate change and implement strategies to increase the resilience of their businesses.”
Dr Litchfield said the environmental effects of climate change are only one aspect of a multifaceted issue facing the red meat industry, with socio-economic effects having an increasing impact.
“Changing consumer expectations continue to have a significant impact on production systems, so it’s vital that producers capitalise on opportunities that arise from establishing a more ecologically engaged society. Pastoralists play an integral role in managing and improving our ecosystems and are pivotal in boosting their resilience to climatic stressors. Responding to a changing and evolving environment in a way that focuses only on the efficiency of a production system, deprives society of a sustainable food source that works synergistically within its environment. To ensure the ongoing profitability of pastoral enterprises, education and collaboration is needed across industry to establish a more climate resilient system and to build trust among consumers.”