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Ways to work around the UK's cattle carbon tax

21 October 2020

Lowering the slaughter age for prime animals could help farmers meet environmental goals.

Opening up debate in the agricultural industry, the National Beef Association (NBA) has suggested lowering the slaughter age for prime animals from 30 to 27 months and announced plans to impose a “carbon tax” on farmers who finish prime beef cattle later than that age.

The intention of the proposed £100 per head levy is to deter producers from retaining older, slower-growing and less efficient cattle to cut the agricultural sector’s carbon footprint and streamline production.

Benefits of a younger slaughtering age include

  • Cost-effectiveness for producers who won’t need to manage cattle for as long a time.
  • A lower carbon footprint, helping agriculture meet net zero emissions targets.
  • Freed up feed and grazing resources.
  • Lower carbon emissions — these increase steadily as animals age and convert feed less efficiently.

The desired result is the production of more domestic beef with a lower carbon footprint.

Potential problems and complications

  • The carbon cost of producing concentrated feed for more intensively-reared animals
  • There are so many variables in terms of breeds, location, food availability, production systems, so a "one-weight-fits-all" doesn’t necessarily apply.
  • It may discourage the uptake of less intensive, regenerative farming practices like mob grazing and sequestering large amounts of carbon in grazing land.
  • Customers often want older animals at slaughter because they say it improves eating quality.

Smart solutions

The proposed carbon tax shines the spotlight more than ever on animal health. It will also intensify the need for more data and quicker insight across the sector. Whilst always a critical issue, the proposed shortened window to get an animal in shape causes the stock manager to rely on technology more than ever to support them in assessing the viability of an animal. Solutions such as wearable trackers and ingestible hardware can act as an extra pair of eyes on the herd’s health for beef farmers, delivering valuable insights on temperature readings and water uptake.

Wearable trackers

Being able to locate an individual animal at any time, from anywhere in the world allows farmers to gather data on the movements of their livestock. If an animal strays from familiar movement patterns, this could signify the need to monitor the animal further in case they are presenting with signs of illness that could ultimately have a negative impact on live weight gains.

The trackers can also be used to implement geofencing and prevent animals from entering certain areas, for example, where they could be exposed to a contagious disease or some other hazard.

Ingestible bolus

A smart bolus inserted into the rumen of cattle allows farmers to keep an eye on the core temperature of each individual animal in real-time. This serves as an early disease detection tool, allowing farmers to take quick, preventative action if an animal’s temperature rises above a predefined level.

A younger slaughter age, means a shorter time for farmers to get their cattle ready for market, leaving little lee-way for the treatment of diseases and any other hindrances.

With margins within which to produce becoming increasingly narrow, farmers need to look to technology which can optimise their operations and ensure long-term sustainability and profitability.

Words by Matthew Margetts, director of Smarter Technologies

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