A new state-of-the-art science facility that monitors the impact sheep farming has on our environment has opened in Devon.
The equipment is the latest experiment to be added to North Wyke Farm, which already carries out world-leading research into farming and its impact on our climate.
The new sheep shed monitors the intake and outtake of sheep, what they eat and excrete, to develop more environmentally friendly feeds and farming methods.
Professor Michael Lee, head of sustainable agricultural sciences at the farm, said: “This [experiment] looks at individual animal intake, but also the loss of nutrients in urine and faeces.
“That allows us to develop different diets and strategies to ensure we optimise animal performance – but minimise the impact on the environment.”
The new facility is the largest of its kind in the UK.
Spread across 440 acres, North Wyke is run as a fully operational farm, with cattle and sheep meat sold as normal.
But each section of the farm is constantly running tests – with experiments including sensors measuring carbon and nitrogen levels in the ground and labs monitoring water in each field.
The farm employs around 70 scientists.
North Wyke’s research is made freely available to the farming industry to improve environmental standards and the latest methods:
Prof Lee said: “The science and the treatments we have planned at North Wyke Farm have been requested by farmers, so it wasn’t the scientists that came up with these different management approaches, it was farmers telling us what they want to test. We can take the risk.
“Farmers run a business and need to make profits, we’re research scientists. We can play, in a way – taking a risk for the farmers and then give them the information.”
Agriculture accounts for 10% of all UK greenhouse gas emissions, including millions of tonnes of methane from livestock.
The farms work comes amid growing calls for us to reduce red meat consumption and the introduction of a red meat tax on beef, pork and lamb.
Dr Taro Takahashi works at North Wyke applies the farm’s scientific findings to economic models.
He told Sky News it is too simplistic to simply scrap red meat farming.
“Our finding is if you’re are too stringent about livestock farming then that means the losses are much greater than the environmental benefit you might enjoy by penalising against livestock farming,” he said.
The farm – part of Rothamsted Research – receives most of its funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council.