In spite of major reductions in staff numbers and cuts in government funding, Northern Ireland’s Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, AFBI, is expected to focus significant resources on research in sheep, dairy and beef production.
This has been welcomed by AgriSearch, the Northern Ireland Agricultural Research and Development Council, at its recent AGM.
AgriSearch, funded by levies on sheep, beef cattle and milk, seeks to drive excellence and innovation on farms by commissioning research projects of real relevance to local farmers and having useful results made available and implemented within these sectors here.
One such AFBI project led by AgriSearch has brought together support from the DARD Research Challenge Fund, Zoetis, Genus and AI Services, to implement novel breeding strategies across 10 commercial suckler farms in Northern Ireland.
Another DARD Research Challenge Fund Project is looking at management strategies for low body condition score cows in late lactation.
Another recent project has been conducted at Linden Foods in conjunction with the Livestock and Meat Commission to assess the robustness of an EID sheep tag reading system.
This has paved the way for linking sheep ear tag and kill numbers to feed back to producers valuable information about the slaughter animals.
AgriSearch is a funding partner of ‘RamCompare’ – a sheep industry consortium across the UK to drive genetic improvement forward by ensuring commercial data from processing plants and commercial flocks is included in genetic evaluations.
Genetic improvement across the dairy, beef and sheep sectors has been identified as an area in which NI agriculture has lagged yet it offers great potential for improving livestock and farm business performance.
After a lengthy “hiatus” in the DARD Evidence & Innovation research funding programme AgriSearch was pleased to see four of its co-funded projects finally getting underway in October.
These include three dairy projects which will be examining the role of high protein crops and forages in dairy production system, a research project examining total confinement systems in dairying (including the use of Zero Grazing) and a study on precision heifer rearing systems.
In addition AgriSearch in conjunction with AHDB is co-funding “Feed into Lamb”, the aim of this project is to improve the underlying models upon which all sheep nutrition recommendations are based.
AgriSearch co-operates with similar bodies across the UK or at a European level to try to avoid unnecessary duplication of spending on research.
This has brought local involvement in a ‘EuroDairy’ project along with several other regions of the EU and a UK Beef Improvement Project aimed at better breeding.
Also at national level AgriSearch project manager Jason Rankin serves on the steering committee of the new Centre for Innovative Excellence in Livestock (CIEL).
The AgriSearch AGM was told that should the CIEL bid for capital funding be successful almost £28 million of public funding will go towards capital investment in British livestock research.
Some £3.6 million of this would be invested in much needed facilities at AFBI, Hillsborough.
This was one of the positive points highlighted by AgriSearch chairman James Campbell, who thanked all who serve unpaid on the board of trustees and on advisory committees. Campbell’s term in the chair is due to end in 2016.
The chair designate of AgriSearch is Michael Bell, executive director of the NI Food and Drink Association.
Well known banker and cattle breeder John Henning has agreed to serve in the voluntary post of vice chairman. Also joining the board is Peter Morrow, owner of Morrow Communications.
The new appointees have brought additional skills and experience to the board of trustees.
To view the AgriSearch annual report browse www.agrisearch.org.
In recent years, AgriSearch has increased the emphasis on knowledge transfer in association with CAFRE farm advisors.
The aim is to let farmers know the results of research trials and see for themselves, usually by participating in farm walks on the units of co-researchers.
These are farmers who make their herds and premises available to conduct research work in association with AFBI scientists.
At these farm walks the host farmers can answer questions from a practical point of view and this is an opportunity for visitors to learn from other farmers.
Greater involvement of farmers in research and in the transfer of knowledge to other farmers is something that the European Commission wants to promote.
Organisations seeking EU funding for agricultural research projects must have in place plans for knowledge transfer to the farmers.