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Livestock Farmers Test Paths To Greener Agriculture

Livestock farmers test paths to greener agriculture

Livestock farmers in Germany, Italy, Sweden and the UK are trying a new method to produce milk and meat: feeding their cows mainly or only grass.

Cattle diets usually include a variety of grains, which make the animals grow faster and – by extension – their meat and milk cheaper. But the practice has hefty environmental and social costs.

The European Union project is called PATHWAYS and promotes more sustainable agricultural practices including pasture-based farming. It runs for five years until the end of August 2026.

Like the UK producers, participating German, Italian and Swedish livestock farmers are feeding some of their cows’ grass-based diets, albeit with some concentrates.

The practice has other environmental benefits: grazing animals return nutrients to the soil through feces and urine and such pastures can absorb CO2 from the atmosphere by having trees—a form of agroforestry known as silvopasture.

But a central question is whether feeding cows mainly or only grass offers farmers themselves advantages, without which any broad take-up of the method is unlikely.

In principle, the practice could help farmers sell their products at a premium price, which would result in more earnings per kilogram of meat. The key is for consumers to be willing to pay higher prices in return for the health and environmental benefits and even for the local economic gains.

PATHWAYS marks an important test of whether such an approach can be as good for producers as it is for public health and the environment. With three years still to go in the project, the verdict is out as the researchers continue to collect information.

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