SCIENTISTS are calling for a renewed focus on plant innovation, in tandem with
livestock farming, to en-sure the sustainability of Northern Ireland’s agri-food systems as dietary needs continue to evolve.
At the recent Agri Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) Science Outlook Conference, keynote sp-eaker Professor Fiona Doohan from University College Dublin highlighted that integrated farming models were needed to enable
green growth and develop a circular farm-based economy with synergy across both livestock and crop production.
“In recent years there has been a global dietary shift and increased consumption of plant-based pro-ducts, however figures show that NI’s gross agricultural output is only five per cent for horticulture and three per cent for crops.
“Over the next five years, agronomy and crop technology now has capacity to enhance the sustainability of our land use and replace some of our imports with our indigenous proteins whilst reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.”
The genetic diversity of oats is also a key growth area and one where Dr Lisa Black from AFBI sees huge potential.
“The number of varieties of oats submitted to the UK National Testing System has doubled between 2006 and 2021, conveying the investment from breeders. It is also evident that more varieties are creating more opportunities.
“However, variety testing systems need to change and focus on sustainability and resilience as well as yield so that varieties that deliver on both environmentally positive outcomes as well as efficient production can be promoted and used by the farming industry.”
Concluding the session, AFBI’s Head
of Grassland and Plant Sciences, Dr Johnathan Dalzell, stressed that DNA based plant health surveillance was vital in protecting Northern Ireland’s high plant health status in a post-Brexit era.
“Traditionally, NI has relied on defined trade and import routes through GB to provide early warning of plant pathogens and pests that may arrive in NI.
“New trade arrangements may put NI at higher risk of outbreaks due to materials being sourced from higher risk countries in the EU.
“This divergence will only con-tinue over time, making it all the more important that NI develops and maintains a state-of-the-art all island plant health surveillance strategy.”