Lamb produced from species-rich pasture has greater health benefits and eating qualities, offering farmers a new way to add value to their product.
And it is possible the same could be true of both beef and milk.
Research from the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER), North Wyke, Devon, has revealed that species-rich pasture produces lambs with higher Vitamin E and Omega 3 fatty acid levels than those reared on semi-improved grassland.
“This is one way for farmers to try and gain more money for their product,” says research ecologist Robert Dunn.
“The research points the way for producers to add value to their output and market their meat on the basis of local flavour distinctiveness from environmentally-friendly pastures.”
The project, launched in January last year in conjunction with the Universities of Bristol, Exeter and Gloucestershire, compared lambs reared on three different systems – salt marshland, heathland and moorland – with a semi-improved grassland control.
Lambs and pasture were tested extensively, including an eating panel at Bristol University.
“This revealed that consumers can tell the difference between the different pasture types, with moorland-reared lamb coming out with the winning taste,” says Mr Dunn.
Most of the participating farmers are now selling their lamb locally and receiving a premium, he adds.
“So, maintaining pasture diversity could help increase the economic and environmental sustainability of rural areas.”
The project is now moving on to examine beef produced from calcareous pasture, lowland neutral grassland and lowland acidic grassland, and later this year will take a similar approach to milk production.
IGER will present its Eating Biodiversity findings at a free open day at North Wyke on 29 June to celebrate the research station’s 25th anniversary.
The “Towards a Better Farming Environment” open day, in association with LEAF, will also examine other research projects.
Farmers will be able to obtain practical guidance on minimising nutrient and particulate losses from soils and meeting the biodiversity goals of agri-environment schemes.
They will also be able to discuss how to live with Nitrate Vulnerable Zones and achieve the standards required by 2015 to stay within the new Water Framework Directive.