Evaluation of sheep production systems based on high-resolution primary data

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Evaluation of sheep production systems based on high-resolution primary data

With the annual throughput of 14.6 million head, sheep farming and its associated sectors contribute £2.4b each year to the UK economy. The industry employs more than 33,000 people in primary production alone and its existence is widely considered to be indispensable for various ecosystem services that the rural landscapes provide. At the same time, sheep production is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions and also a leading polluter of UK watercourses. Contrary to the globally more prevalent view shared by FAO and the EU, the life-cycle carbon footprint of British lamb meat (as expressed in kg CO2-eq per kg final product) tends to be higher than that of British beef, further strengthening the need for rigorous system-wide assessment of the trade-off between the costs and benefits brought about to society by the sheep industry. Recent research based on producer surveys has shown that the environmental performances of UK sheep farms have a level of variability far beyond what can be explained by their geographical locations. Given that more than 90% of the carbon footprint along the value chain of British lamb meat are attributable to sheep farms, improving on-farm strategies to close this gap is indisputably the most effective means to reduce the national CO2 inventory. Using the rich primary data and state-of-the-art facility available at the North Wyke Farm Platform, this PhD project provides the student with an opportunity to conduct life-cycle modelling of sheep production systems based almost exclusively on on-farm primary data. The research is funded by South West Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (SWBio DTP), with additional support from an industrial partner, Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB).

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