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Measuring resource efficiency on farms

Posted on 20/04/2017

The Sustainable and Efficient Food Production ATP provides postgraduate online distance learning modules relevant to pasture-based agriculture.

Improving the efficiency of resource use on farms is a central tenet of “sustainable intensification”, in particular with regard to physical resource inputs such as fertilisers, diesel, electricity and water. On some measures, farms are very inefficient systems. For example, livestock farms typically transform just 20% of fertiliser nitrogen (N) input into saleable products (meat and milk). This obviously represents a poor return on the cost of purchasing fertilisers, a waste of N fertiliser, and a waste of energy used to manufacture it.

Farmers possess a wealth of knowledge about their own farms which, consciously or subconsciously, they use when making management decisions. So how could computer algorithms possibly help farmers to improve their performance?

Advances in data processing have led to plethora of freely available decision support tools that can help farmers to visualise otherwise “invisible” resource flows on their farms, to calculate nutrient budgets, to decide when to graze a field and to explore the effects of management changes such as feeding strategies before committing to actually trialling them. Despite being free, these tools, and many others, remain under-utilised.

In parallel with use of decision support tools, taking a systems approach to evaluate the life cycle efficiency of food production can help to elucidate multiple benefits arising from particular technologies and management changes. For example, covering slurry stores will reduce emissions of polluting gases, but will also conserve more N in slurries so that they are able to replace more fertiliser, and will reduce slurry spreading costs by avoiding rainwater ingress. Analysing all these effects within the farm system can help make the economic case to invest in farm improvements.

Distance learning module on farm resource efficiency

A part-time MSc module on Resource Efficient Farming will be delivered entirely online by the Advanced Training Partnership in Sustainable and Efficient Food Production (ATP-Pasture) at Bangor University from May through to August 2017, drawing on freely available online decision support tools, best practice guidance from industry and scientific organisations, and the latest research, to provide answers to these questions and many more.

Pasture-ATP is also offering various other postgraduate distance learning modules, including: Farm Business Management; Organic & Low Input Ruminant Production; Ruminant Gut Microbiology; Genetics & Genomics; Anaerobic Digestion; Agriculture & Society.

Find out more on the Pasture-ATP website.

Story source: Pasture- ATP

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