THE beef research pro-
gramme at the Agri-
Food and Biosciences
Institute, Hillsborou-gh, has a key aim to lead improvements in the sustainability of the beef sector whilst enhancing the natural environment.
These improvements span a variety of activities from management to nutrition through to the adoption of new technologies and the development of decision support tools. Collectively the programme aims to increase the profitability of beef production in a sustainable manner.
Recently the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has commissioned two important new research projects which will start at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, Hillsborough, in the coming months.
The first of these projects focuses on the hills and uplands for beef and sheep farming and is called ‘HUBS’. Hills and uplands are largely designated as Severely Dis-advantaged Areas (SDAs), which represents 44 per cent of all farmed land in Northern Ireland.
These areas have potential to be an invaluable resource in our natural environment if properly managed, pro-viding many important eco-system services, including climate regulation via car-bon sequestration, flood mitigation, clean water and
also educational and re-creational opportunities.
However, if these areas are not properly managed they have the potential to have a negative effect on the environment, such as reductions in water quality and biodiversity.
Traditionally, grazing has
been the predominant met-hod of managing upland habitats, with cattle and sheep farms making up 90 per cent of severely disadvantaged area (SDA) farm enterprises.
This desk-based project will focus on identifying natural capital solutions and will consider adaptations to farm management practices that will, whenever possible, also improve the productivity and resilience of the production system.
These adaptations will in-clude an assessment of native versus traditional cattle br-eeds and grazing systems of cattle and sheep. This one year project is designed to develop a holistic research programme to take forward priority research for the hills and uplands, aligned with beef and sheep production.
In doing so it will form a sound scientific basis to steer future projects in this very important area where agriculture and land management interacts so closely with the environment and societal benefits.
The second recently com-
missioned study from DAERA
will explore trends in the trace element status of NI livestock over the past two decades and quantify relationships with weather, soil type and location.
Trace element deficiencies have been identified in both livestock and humans and this project will monitor trace elements such as iodine and selenium from farm to fork to identify levels in the soil, forage, in the animal and the resultant meat.
These two new projects add to a wide and varied beef research programme currently underway at AFBI Hillsborough.
One of the current main projects in the programme is working towards updating the nutritional models for beef cattle which will help producers and feed advisors improve the accuracy of ration formulation and there-
fore improve the nutritional design of dietary supplements to better support the efficient growth of beef cattle.
The research programme also remains heavily focused on maximising beef output from forage, and in particular grass.
The ‘beef from grass’ research programme is cur-
rently investigating the use of multi species swards on animal and sward per-
formance as well as identifying key managerial strategies for beef farmers to manage grassland platforms. These strategies include rotation length, weed control and both the anthelmintic and trace element management of the livestock.
Additionally a novel innov-
ation currently being investi-gated for the grazing platform is that of virtual fencing.
Virtual fencing aims to remotely map and control livestock grazing behaviour without the use of fixed fences but instead uses GPS sensors and wireless technologies. This emerging technology has the advantage for farmers to improve livestock and pasture management, whilst reducing labour and costs associated with fixed fences.
However, the impact on animal welfare requires consideration and the work within AFBI will provide an insight to the advantages and potential unintended consequences when adopting this new technology.
The beef research pro-gramme also links to cross cutting initiatives within AFBI Hillsborough investigating strategies to reduce amm-onia and greenhouse gas emissions from cattle and the development of decision support tools for farmers, such as BovIS and Carbon Calculators.
Farmer safety is also of key consideration within the
programme and a novel study is currently underway to improve the understanding of how animal genetics can influence cattle temperament.
The above work is funded from a range of sources, including DAERA, AHDB, EU Horizon 2020 and AgriSearch, and is working with a range of collaborators across the UK and Europe.
Overall the AFBI Hills-borough beef research pro-gramme aims to address key challenges for the local beef sector and through working with partners, mainly Agri-Search and CAFRE, the programme engages with organisations across RoI, the UK and wider EU whilst also ensuring the findings are disseminated widely to local farmers and industry representatives.