From Raising Chickens To Growing Mushrooms: Here’s How Livestock Farmers Can Make The Sustainable Leap

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Scientists and climate activists have called for an urgent transition to a more sustainable food system. The future food system envisioned is one without animal agriculture, the industry that drives as much as 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, water contamination and contributing towards antimicrobial resistance. 

In an climate and pandemic-stricken age where environmental and public health is at the top of mind for many, the growing demand for plant-based alternatives has grown immensely. 

Yet many are wondering – what happens to all the jobs and livelihoods in the enormous animal agriculture industry, from slaughterhouse workers to dairy producers and livestock farmers? 

Turns out, there is a place for meat and dairy producers and farmers – there simply needs to be a transition to sustainable options. Some are already undergoing this shift, and here’s how. 

Chicken & cow farms turn to mushrooms

As a part of the Texas-based Rancher Advocacy Program, a support system to help farmers transition to move to new farming practices, farmers Jennifer and Rodney Barrett switched from raising chickens and cows to start their career as vegan mushroom farmers. 

While the couple was prompted to make the dramatic change to mushroom farming as a result of Rodney’s long-term health problems that led to the adoption of a plant-based diet, other instances of the profitability of mushroom farming as plant-based meats surge in popularity suggest that there is also a business case for the switch. 

Source: Stuff NZ / Brent Williams & Jude Horrill

In New Zealand, Brent Williams and Jude Horrill established Ohau Gourmet Mushrooms in 2018, and now produces around 30 to 40 kilograms of shiitake mushrooms, pink and phoenix oyster mushrooms every week. 

Since launching their mushroom venture, the couple has attracted not only restaurant partnerships to use their mushrooms as plant-based alternative ingredients in dishes, but has also been popular amongst locals who are searching for new, healthier and more sustainable meat-replacements in their home cooking. 

Dairy producers are now milking oats

One of the early pioneers of helping farmers transition into sustainable options is the Swedish oat milk brand Oatly, which has since its inception taken the world by storm and has even landed on the menus of Starbucks and Pacific Coffee, the two leading coffee chains in Hong Kong, and in mainland China.

In 2017, the company supported dairy farmer Adam Arnesson to switch to growing oats instead of raising dairy cattle. Oatly used Arnesson’s oats to create a specialty line of oat milk, and also monitored the environmental impact of his transitioned farm. At the end, Arnesson saw a significant reduction in emissions while his profits steadily increased. 

Source: Tom Levitt / The Guardian

“The big change is that we now can feed over 200 people with food on our farm compared to 60 when we started, and that our climate emissions have reduced to half per produced calorie,” Arnesson said to HuffPost. He hopes that more farmers will follow his example, and see the plant-based movement as a profitable business opportunity while also being beneficial to the planet. 

Hälsa, the makers of organic oat milk yoghurts, is launching a similar initiative. It recently celebrated the first Scandinavian organic oat seeds planted in a pilot farm with dairy farmers in the United States as a part of a dairy-to-oat sustainable farming conversion program.

Farmers are also switching to cultivating crops for plant-based cheese

“A lot of farmers see us as a threat,” said Miyoko Schinner, the founder of Californian plant-based dairy company Miyoko’s Creamery in a recent interview. But Schinner is now focused on changing this perception. 

Like Oatly, she is now helping farmers switch to more eco-friendly types of agriculture, and is currently looking for dairy farms in the state of California who are willing to work with her fast-growing brand ditch cows for growing ingredients for vegan products instead. 

Source: Miyoko’s Creamery

Mikoyo’s Creamery will offer financial support for farms to convert to growing seeds, legumes and even potatoes that can be used to manufacture vegan dairy products such as cheeses. 

For many dairy farmers in the United States in particular, switching to sustainably farming crops for plant-based companies could be a lifeline. 

Earlier in January, Borden Dairy became the second major cow’s milk producer in the United States to file for bankruptcy, citing “market challenges” driven by the current dairy-free trend that is seeing coffee chain behemoth Starbucks’ pledge to become more eco-friendly by removing the additional fee to help push plant-based milks.

Lead image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


  • Sally Ho

    Sally Ho is Green Queen's former resident writer and lead reporter. Passionate about the environment, social issues and health, she is always looking into the latest climate stories in Hong Kong and beyond. A long-time vegan, she also hopes to promote healthy and plant-based lifestyle choices in Asia. Sally has a background in Politics and International Relations from her studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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