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As an Eagles music fan, I knew the surname Meisner (Randy Meisner, the bass guitarist, was a favourite!) When our team met livestock scientist Dr Heinz Meissner at the Agricultural Research Council (ARC)’s Irene campus years ago, it was a name I would remember.

The Red Meat Producers Organisation January 2020 newsletter includes an article by him titled “What lies ahead for livestock farming towards 2050?” A quick Google will find other material written by Meissner that touches on weather, changing climate patterns and the implications of these for livestock farmers.

He has previously made the point that although expected future deviations in temperature, like the 3°C forecast for east Namibia and the west of Botswana, may not sound “severe”, it is when one contemplates that these are overall average degree figures (day and night temperatures, summer and winter temperatures all included) the picture becomes more evident.

This month he traces how the tropical air coming southwards will tend to be dry more often; how warming in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean will result in more regular El Niño incidences.

What steps can livestock farmers take to weatherproof their farms?

All steps which save water and make more effective use of it; all steps which reduce soil erosion and increase soil fertility should be considered. Meissner looks at four:

  1. Look at greater use of wetlands. Open storage of water in dams is something which must be revisited. Because of evaporation, dams will be increasingly wasteful. Greater use of wetlands is part of the possible solutions. Wetlands have many environmental benefits (see our wetlands page here).
  2. Keep water in the soil by using grass cover, mulch and cover crops. Practices which retain water in soils and near plants should be encouraged. Looking after the veld by maximising grass cover, and using cover crops and other regenerative cultivation practices is the way to go. Well-covered soils retain up to three times more soil than bare soil.
  3. Prevent evaporation and algae in livestock drinking sources. Ideally these should be in closed structures with water released into narrow troughs.
  4. Revisit veld burning. Cover material is removed, water retention decreased, and soil erosion are all likely results of repeated use of this practice. In addition to the loss of organic material, less carbon is stored in the soil. A better strategy is to allow livestock to feed on the mature grass (supplement this with the necessary nitrogen and phosphorus).

If farmers follow good management practices there will always be space for livestock products, even with the predicted drier conditions. Livestock foods “are nutrient dense containing most of the essential amino acids, minerals and vitamins” and are a mainstay for agriculture and food security.

Photo above by Matthias Zomer from Pexels.

Relevant pages on Agribook.Digital include “Weather & climate“, “Climate change & global warming“, “Soils“, “Conservation agriculture” and “Water“.

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