AFBI director urges industry refocus on grass

AFBIs Open Meeting will be held at AFBI Hillsborough on Thursday, June 2
AFBIs Open Meeting will be held at AFBI Hillsborough on Thursday, June 2

Dr Sinclair Mayne, Director of the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute’s Sustainable Agri-Food Sciences Division, has challenged the local livestock industry to refocus on grass.

Speaking ahead of AFBI’s Open Meeting, to be held at AFBI Hillsborough on Thursday, June 2, Dr Mayne said: “Given the current unprecedented crisis across all livestock sectors as a result of the downturn in global markets, we need to focus on driving down the costs of production, rather than increasing output or undertaking further expensive capital investment.

“Northern Ireland’s competitive advantage in ruminant livestock production hinges on maximising the contribution of grass – our cheapest feed resource. The current crisis highlights the need to return to the basics of growing and utilising grass efficiently.” He went on to say: “The most effective way to respond to the current crisis is to focus on the factors that are within our control. This means lowering production costs through a relentless focus on improved technical efficiency and in particular a reemphasis on the role of grass as the most cost-effective feed for cattle and sheep.”

Recent AFBI studies indicate utilized grass yields on beef and sheep farms of only 4.1 tonnes of dry matter per hectare, and 7.5 tonnes for the dairy sector, compared to a potential yield of 10 tonnes per hectare. Similarly, milk from forage in CAFRE benchmarked dairy herds has declined from over 3250 litres per cow to 1500 litres per cow over the last fifteen years.

AFBI research has consistently shown that milk production from forage (grass and grass silage) is closely linked to margin per litre, irrespective of yield level of the herd.

“Consequently, the key message from the AFBI Open Meeting will be the need for an industry-wide initiative to improve production from grass,” said Dr Mayne.

Under the theme of “AFBI Science Making a Difference,” key presentations at the

Open Meeting will include:

l Growing grass. Major limitations to grass growth include insufficient use of lime, underuse of fertiliser nitrogen and sulphur and low potash status. Grass will not grow without these key nutrients.

l Using grass effectively. Key challenges here are improving grazing management through sward measurement and grass budgeting and the need to significantly improve silage quality. Results of the AFBI Hillsborough Forage Information Service show no improvement in the quality of silage produced on Northern Ireland farms over the last 20 years.

AFBI researchers will highlight the opportunities to increase utilized grass yields to 10 tonnes dry matter per hectare and to achieve milk from forage of over 4500 litres/cow, through refocusing on the basics of effective soil nutrient and grassland management.

To register to attend the Open Meeting on June 2 visit the AFBI website www.afbini.gov.uk/news/you-are-invited-afbi-open-meeting. Please note that places are limited.