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31 July 2015

Sheep give a helping hoof to American organic farmers

A Montana University study highlights the role that sheep could play in supporting organic farming

Organic, bio, pesticide-free – call it what you like: it doesn’t change the facts on the ground. Around the world, organic farming is booming.

Until only a few years ago organic food production was considered a “niche” sector, but in recent years it has seen a very positive growth trend. Increased awareness among consumers about ecological issues, as well as frequent food scares, have combined to plant the belief in the mind of the public that organic production means safer food and respect for the environment and animal welfare.

But not everyone has easy access to organic products. The reason? Price. Organic food costs more to produce. To close the gap between organic goods and the products of large retailers, scientific innovation and research have stepped in, focusing on recycling and re-using materials. Among these studies, those by Montana State University could allow organic farmers to spend less and create a virtuous food chain that will also involve the producers of lamb and mutton.

The hypothesis of the study is that costs can be lower by introducing sheep onto the land and letting them graze amongst the organic plants: their use in the management of the land would reduce operating costs and the risk of soil erosion, as well as shortening the amount of time the land is being worked, thus reducing uncertainties related to the use of mechanical equipment.

Sheep manure would fertilise the crops naturally with zero impact on the land and help in the management of the vegetation coverage and the elimination of weeds.

The research also looks at the economic effects of real savings: farmers could earn extra income from charging grazing fees to flock owners. In turn, sheep farmers would get natural, organic feed for their animals. Could this alliance between arable producers and animal owners bring down the overall price of organic products? Time will tell.


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