Reducing their impact on the environment does not mean that South African dairy farmers will suffer financially. They will still be able to maximise their profits.
This is one of the findings of a new study at Stellenbosch University (SU).
“It is possible to achieve both the goals of reducing environmental impact and maximising profit on pasture-based dairy farms with the same farm system, using the same practices," says Dr Craig Galloway of Trace & Save at the Woodlands Dairy Sustainability Project in Humansdorp in the Eastern Cape.
Galloway obtained his doctorate in Conservation Ecology on Wednesday (6 December) at SU's fifth graduation ceremony of December 2017. His supervisors were Professor Karen Esler from the SU Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology, Dr Heidi Prozesky from the SU Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology, and Dr Beatrice Conradie from the School of Economics and Centre for Social Science Research at the University of Cape Town.
Four SU students receive PhDs for research related to dairy farming
Galloway was one of four graduates in the Faculty of AgriSciences to receive their doctorates for research that relate to dairy farming. Lobke Steyn received a PhD in Animal Science for her research into how fruit by-products such as dried citrus pulp and apple pomace can be used as an economical alternative energy source in concentrate feeds for grazing Jersey cows.
Brink van Zyl's research emphasised the variation that occurs in South African maize regarding kernel hardening. He showed that it affects the rate by which starch is digested. Brink developed a prediction model that can be used in the animal feed industry to increase the accuracy of dynamic feed formulation programmes. Bilungi Useni is the first student from the Congo to obtain a PhD in the Faculty of AgriSciences. With his studies in Animal Science, he showed how valuable it is to provide energy supplements, such as starch and fat, correctly during the transition period and in early lactation to Holstein cows to improve their milk production and reproduction success.
Running a sustainable dairy farm
Galloway did research on sustainable agriculture on dairy farms in the Eastern Cape - the largest milk-producing province in the country. He points out that 65 farms participated in my perception survey, and that data was collected from 43 farms for the environmental impact and economic efficiency analyses.
He says there is a lot of buzz around sustainable agriculture, but not much widespread adoption of sustainable practices.
“There is very little research on farms with regards to the challenges of adopting sustainable practices, the benefits of sustainable practices, and the farm systems that should be adopted in order to achieve sustainable agriculture goals."
As part of his study, Galloway focused on farmers' perceptions of sustainable agriculture and the extent to which they had adopted sustainable practices on their farms. He also assessed some of the environmental impacts associated with dairy farming by calculating the carbon footprint and nutrient use efficiency of each farm. Galloway then examined the economic efficiency of dairy farms, while comparing this to the environmental impact measures.
Galloway says he tried to better understand the extent of the environmental impacts resulting from dairy farming in the Eastern Cape. He adds that by focussing on the grazing management and soil health aspects of pasture-based dairy farming, he wanted to identify if there were farms where the impact was lower and, if so, what they were doing to achieve this.
“I also wanted to examine whether the goals of profitability and reduced environmental impact could be jointly achieved, and if so, which farm system resulted in this."
“My research showed that farmers do not need to sacrifice anything in terms of financial profitability when aiming to lower the environmental impact of their practices."
“I also found that farmers are very positive and open to the idea of sustainable agriculture, the challenge lies in the implementation of sustainable practices."
Galloway identified three main areas that farmers should focus on regarding farm management to have more sustainable dairy farm systems.
“Firstly, they should ensure that the farm is stocked according to the correct stocking density in order to maximise milk production on the available area without relying on excessive external inputs of fertiliser and feed."
“Secondly, farmers should manage soil health better, which minimises the need for fertiliser, and thirdly they should improve grazing management, which minimises the need for imported feed."
The challenge for farmers is that this requires more active management and by doing this, farmers can both reduce their environmental impact and increase their profitability, says Galloway.
He points out even though it is important to address the significant environmental impacts associated with the production of milk on dairy farms, it cannot be at the expense of the farming business and the people that rely on this industry.
“The triple-bottom-line of economic, environmental and social goals needs to be achieved in order for sustainability to be attained, and this is the best approach to address the challenges associated with dairy farming."
“The importance of agriculture in terms of food security, its contribution to the economy and as a source of employment, especially in rural areas, means its long-term success relies on the implementation of sustainable practices."
Galloway says some of the findings of his study can also be applied to dairy farming in most parts of the world as well as to different types of farming.
- Main photo: Dr Craig Galloway at the graduation ceremony.
- Photo 1: Drs Brink van Zyl, Bilungi Useni, Lobke Steyn and Craig Galloway after the ceremony.
- Photographer: Stefan Els
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Dr Craig Galloway
Trace & Save; Jeffrey's Bay
Woodlands Dairy; Humansdorp
Tel: 021 808 4921