The lazy ‘groupthink’ mindset which has seen cows demonised as climate change villains is being turned on its head by game-changing new research into the true contribution which cattle can make in efforts towards net zero.

At a meeting held at the James Hutton Institute’s Glensaugh hill research farm this week around 80 of Scotland’s farming leaders, policy makers and opinion formers heard that, when carbon emissions of all three major greenhouse gases and sequestrations were properly accounted for, keeping cattle actually contributed to a net reduction in global warming potential:

“When you move beyond the misguided practice of focusing only on methane production, rather than killing the planet, our research shows that cattle make things better,” said the event’s keynote speaker, Peter Byck, film maker and professor of Sustainability at Arizona State University.

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Focusing on what he termed Adaptive Multipaddock (AMP) pasture management, he said that 10 years of research had shown that cattle farmers in the States who adopted this regenerative approach were achieving a net reduction of 3.3 tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere per hectare per year.

But the same research also showed that even those working on more conventional systems which relied heavily on artificial fertilisers were still providing a net reduction in atmospheric carbon levels, albeit at a lower rate of 0.8t/ha/yr.

“Our cattle are not only improving fertility but they are also building new soil at a rate far faster than any geological process,” he said indicating that by approximating the natural habits of the millions of wild bison which had once roamed the states, carbon stocks, soils and biodiversity could all benefit.

“Rather than speaking about altering our systems to be

‘less bad’ we should be championing the fact that far from than making things worse, cattle are actually improving the situation.”

He added that this meant that when the Danish Government had voted to introduce a carbon tax on cows, not only were they penalising the country’s farmers but they had introduced a measure which would make the situation worse rather than better.

Releasing a series of short films on the experiences of cattle ranchers in the US formed part of the important work of getting the true message to the public and policy makers – and he encouraged Scotland to follow suit.

The event was organised as part of a farmer-led initiative to encourage scientists, farmers, politicians, civil servants and others to draw together a similar dataset painting the true picture for Scotland which would help ensure that policy guided the industry towards a future which was truly sustainable, rather than focusing solely on tree planting.