Reversing the impact of soil degradation on livestock production
Farmer's Weekly|February 26, 2021
Livestock producers, particularly in arid climates, are struggling to remain profitable. Soil degradation and declining stocking rates have been identified as some of the main reasons for this decline. Colin Nott, a regenerative agricultural consultant from Namibia, spoke to Annelie Coleman.
Annelie Coleman.

Worldwide, primary livestock production has seen both a decline in output and a rise in input costs. At the same time, the entire agriculture sector has found itself under the spotlight for causing major environmental degradation.

“This could be blamed on more carbon dioxide [COâ‚‚] and water vapour being released into the atmosphere, the first from degrading soil and the second due to increased evaporation from bare soil,” says Colin Nott, a regenerative agricultural consultant from Namibia.

According to Nott, arid regions account for approximately 40%, or 5,2 billion hectares, of Earth’s land surface. A considerable portion of these are suited to livestock and, to a lesser extent, crop production. Most of the world’s arid zones are also expanding into more humid areas through desertification. This is the process by which fertile land becomes less productive, typically as a result of inappropriate land management, and the problem is made worse by deforestation.

DEGRADATION IN NAMIBIA

In Namibia, 60 million hectares are suitable for livestock production, but virtually all of this land has been degraded to some extent, according to Nott. Perennial grasses, herbs and soil cover have been destroyed in many places, while plant biodiversity and overall production has declined markedly. Of these 60 million hectares, 45 million are now severely bush-encroached. In many parts of the country, sustainable stocking rates (SSRs) are 50% lower than those of between 50 and 100 years ago. Put more bluntly, the land can now support only half of the animals it did then.

The SSR is the most important profit driver in a livestock enterprise, says Nott. This figure, combined with animal performance, determines how many kilograms/ha of meat a farmer can produce sustainably over time. A declining SSR means declining productivity and ultimately dwindling profitability. If the current downward spiral is not turned around, many producers are bound to go out of business at some point. “This is the crux of the matter in Southern Africa,” says Nott. “Livestock producers are not only struggling in Namibia. Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe and other dry climates of the world display similar levels of degradation and face the same issues.”

In contrast, by keeping track of the daily performance of every animal and implementing rangeland management plans that provide for an increased SSR, farmers can increase their profits. There are fundamental differences between managing rangelands in arid areas and doing so in areas with predictable rainfall or precipitation distributed evenly all year round. Arid regions are subject to highly inconsistent rainfall in terms of volume and distribution. As a result, the timing of plant growth and the amount of forage produced in a growth season are unpredictable.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM FARMER'S WEEKLYView All

Why plants need nitrogen

This element, which is found in the chlorophyll of plants, is responsible for vegetative growth and is therefore crucial to the success of the crop.

2 mins read
Farmer's Weekly
May 07, 2021

Towards a fairer trade balance between SA and Botswana

In this article, Thomas Harvey, Absa’s head of AgriBusiness in Botswana, provides an overview of the agriculture sector in that country and explores the linkages between the agriculture sectors of Botswana and South Africa.

4 mins read
Farmer's Weekly
May 07, 2021

Breeding world champion Charolais

When his cattle business was hit hard by drought, fifth-generation North West farmer Loutjie Campher started breeding Charolais as a means of rebuilding his herd. He spoke to Pieter Dempsey about his stud.

4 mins read
Farmer's Weekly
May 07, 2021

Pannar gives you the edge

Pannar’s yellow maize package consistently delivers top-end yield potential across different potential levels, production areas and seasons.

2 mins read
Farmer's Weekly
May 07, 2021

Reimagining work and land

In an attempt to restore harmony between people and the land, Aletta Venter is going against the status quo when it comes to land ownership and labour relationships. She spoke to Glenneis Kriel about this journey.

8 mins read
Farmer's Weekly
May 07, 2021

Dragon fruit: a highpotential crop with value-add possibilities

In need of a crop to boost his profits, Western Cape grower Louw de Wet began experimenting with dragon fruit. Despite initial production challenges, he was soon convinced he had found a winner. De Wet spoke to Jeandré van der Walt about his production methods and the opportunities he wants to explore with the fruit.

5 mins read
Farmer's Weekly
May 07, 2021

SA crocodile farmers must adapt to survive

Local crocodile farmers have come under pressure due to an increase in international supply and the recent drop in demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Wouter Kriel spoke to Stefan van As, chairperson of the South African Crocodile Industry Association, about the challenges facing crocodile farmers.

4 mins read
Farmer's Weekly
May 07, 2021

Dealing with lumpy skin disease

Lumpy skin disease is a notifiable disease. This means the state veterinarian must be informed if you suspect your cattle are infected with it, as specific control measures must be implemented.

2 mins read
Farmer's Weekly
May 07, 2021

A stronger knot for better bales

New Holland’s latest baler innovation features a new system that not only delivers denser, more secure bales, but also eliminates twine off-cut waste.

2 mins read
Farmer's Weekly
May 07, 2021

A Beginner's Guide To At-Home Composting

With at-home composting, you can turn kitchen scraps into fertiliser for your garden. Researchers from Australia’s Griffith University compiled this list of do’s and don’ts for composting beginners.

2 mins read
Farmer's Weekly
May 07, 2021
RELATED STORIES

GEOLOGY 101 Columnar Basalt

A distinctive volcanic structure found throughout the world has been given fanciful names: “Organ Pipes” in Namibia and Victoria, Australia; “Kilt Rock” and “Samson’s Ribs” in Scotland; “Giant’s Causeway” in Northern Ireland; “Thunderstruck Rocks” in Romania; “Devils Tower” in Wyoming and “Paul Bunyan’s Woodpile” in Utah, USA; the “Baigong Pipes” in China; and the “Cliff of Stone Plates” in Vietnam. High-resolution satellite images have even shown similar as-yet-unnamed structures on Mars.

1 min read
Rock&Gem Magazine
December 2020

A REACH TOO FAR

This is not the story I thought I’d be writing when I began my motorcycling adventure on Namibia’s gravel roads.

8 mins read
Adventure Motorcycle (ADVMoto)
November - December 2020

AFRICAN DREAMS

With cruises that visit South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe, CroisiEurope shows off the best that land and water have to offer.

5 mins read
Porthole Cruise Magazine
September/October 2020

ESCAPIST UTOPIA

A JOURNEY FROM THE HEART OF NAMIBIA TO THE SKELETON COAST IN LAND ROVER’S STUNNING NEW OFF-ROAD CHAMPION

9 mins read
Motor Trend
June 2020

A Newsletter Giving Feminism A Fresh Voice

With their online newsletter Lenny, Girls collaborators Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner are giving feminism a fresh voice.

5 mins read
Fast Company
November 2015

LEGENDS ON LEGENDS

Continuing our feature for 2020/21, as we speak to our former greats about their memories of star players from our opponents. This evening, it’s the turn of David Howells, as he recalls regular midfield tussles with one of Palace’s all-time greats, Geoff Thomas.

4 mins read
Tottenham Hotspur Publications
Spurs v Crystal Palace

Craft Beer And Pub Grub In The Midlands

Pubs have been centres of human gathering for centuries. Here’s our selection of five historic pubs in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands that guarantee fine fare, cold brew and great views.

10 mins read
go! - South Africa
April/May 2021

Truth Or Fiction? It's Perfectly Safe To Airlift A Rhinoceros

Flying rhinos upside down looks ungainly but is it harmful, too? New research set out to find the answer.

1 min read
BBC Wildlife
Spring 2021

YOU'VE GOT AN ARD TASK AHEAD OF YOU

MIDWEEK ROUND-UP

3 mins read
The Non-League Football Paper
March 28, 2021

Look Out, It's April Fool's

Like it or loathe it, the tradition of April Fool’s Day seems to be more popular today than ever

3 mins read
WOMAN'S WEEKLY
March 30, 2021