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3 September, 2020

Nuffield Scholar seeks to enhance pastoral resilience

PASTORALISTS play a vital role in the synergy between agriculture and conservation, and greater recognition of their services will make enterprises more resilient to climate shocks as livestock production becomes more variable. That’s according to 2019 Nuffield Scholar, South Australian pastoralist and veterinarian, Dr Ellen Litchfield.


2019 Nuffield Scholar, Dr Ellen Litchfield, says pastoralists must unite agriculture and conservation synergistically for ongoing productivity

Dr Litchfield has investigated the environmental and socio-political impacts of climate change on Australian pastoral enterprises and studied methods to increase their resilience.

Dr Litchfield said the arid and semi-arid rangelands of Australia are one of the world’s most volatile climates, and climate change would result in further prolonged droughts.

“Pastoralists need to recognise the risks associated with the continued rise of temperatures and prolonged periods of drought, and implement strategies to increase the productivity and resilience of their businesses,” Dr Litchfield said.

“It is vital Australia implements innovative business models that facilitate greater resilience to climatic stressors, compared to the existing static production systems.”

Dr Litchfield has travelled across China, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Germany, Ireland, the UK, Italy, the USA, Kenya and South Africa to see how producers across the world are adapting to these climatic stressors.

Dr Litchfield said she had met with producers that worked in harmony with their environment to deliver benefits to enterprises.

“In Hudson’s Hope, British Columbia, I visited Venator Ranch,” Dr Litchfield said.

“Recognising the benefits of running livestock that’s well adapted to the northern Canadian environment, the ranch owners integrated bison into their cattle operation,” Dr Litchfield said.

“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, the Ranch established their own brand, Frontier Bison,” Dr Litchfield said.

“In doing so, they capitalised on their herd, connected with consumers and ensured the operation’s future.”

Dr Litchfield said that by utilising climate adapted species, producers could ensure both production and environmental goals were met.

Dr Litchfield pointed to another example where Kenyan Conservancy, Ol Pejeta, had found success in grazing cattle amongst elephants.

“Ol Pejeta has achieved greater economic stability by integrating agriculture with conservation needs,” Dr Litchfield said.

“The Boran cattle breed is unique to Kenya and is well adapted to its environmental conditions.

“The breed has a strong herding instinct which makes them easier to graze and manage at night,” Dr Litchfield said.

However Dr Litchfield said the environmental effects of climate change were only one aspect of a multifaceted issue facing the red meat industry.

“Changing consumer expectations are increasingly affecting production systems, so it is critical now more than ever they seek to establish a more ecologically engaged society,” Dr Litchfield said.

“Pastoralists play an integral role in improving our ecosystems, and this research shows their ongoing profitability will depend on education and collaboration to establish a more resilient climate system and build trust among consumers."

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