New study suggests that using willow as fodder can cut emissions from livestock

The Game and Wildlife Trust research showed that adding tree leaves to the diet of sheep could be instrumental in reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

Scientists from the trust tested the theory on 24 Aberfield lambs, comparing them in 4 groups of six. Half the lambs had 200g of goat willow leaves per day. The willow-fed lambs showed significant reductions in NO2 and CO2 in their urine. These lambs also had reduced urine ammonia.

While cutting willow for fodder can be labour-intensive, the SRC (short rotation coppice) method employed by Energy Crops Consultancy allows for silvopasture – that is, allowing livestock to browse amongst the coppices. You can read more about this farming approach here.

Willow is well known for its water holding capabilities, a feature which may have increasing importance as the climate continues to change and drought periods increase. Using it as fodder can therefore not only mitigate against climate change fodder shortages, it can actually reduce the causes of climate change in the first place!

Defra has stated that agroforestry is eligible for the Basic Support Scheme – both for silvoarable (trees planted amongst arable or bi-energy crops) and silvopasture (trees planted in forage alongside grazing animals). The Committee on Climate Change in its latest report estimates that annual carbon emissions could be reduced by 5.9 MtCO2e by 2050 through agroforestry principles.

Professor Chris Stoate, who preformed the research, states: “The results are preliminary, but they provide an exciting indication that feeding willow leaves to ruminants may contribute to national targets for both climate change and air quality. It certainly warrants further investigation.”

To put these gas emission reductions into perspective, some estimates show that 1kg of NO2 produces 300 times the amount of warming of the atmosphere as 1kg of CO2 over a 100 year timescale. THE NFU has set a goal for farming to reach net zero by 2040, so any method to reduce greenhouse gasses in farming must be worth pursuing. Get in touch with us today for a consultation on how willow can reduce your farm’s carbon footprint.

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Allowing sheep to browse in an SRC willow plantation can reduce their production of harmful greenhouse gasses