European grassland experts pay a visit to AFBI Hillsborough

Chris Johnston explains the nutrient control issues on local farmland and the research that AFBI is doing to find novel but practical solutions.
Chris Johnston explains the nutrient control issues on local farmland and the research that AFBI is doing to find novel but practical solutions.

Leading scientists working on grassland research across Europe recently gathered for the European Grassland Federation Conference in Cork.

At this event AFBI played a prominent role, with Professor Trevor Gilliland opening the conference with the keynote plenary presentation on ‘Resilience in Grasses’ with a further 28 presentations or poster displays delivered by AFBI’s research teams.

Some of the European scientists that visited the AFBI Hillsborough research farm.

Some of the European scientists that visited the AFBI Hillsborough research farm.

AFBI’s science on grassland covers many disciplines and AFBI scientists reported the latest findings in the areas of grass breeding, grass utilization for dairy, beef and sheep, on soils and nutrient use efficiency, on ryegrass/white clover dynamics, on animal health and welfare impacts and on the implications of climate change on ruminant livestock systems. They also included some very novel forefront scientific studies, such as the use of neural networks and mobile near infrared spectrometry to potentially achieve rapid herbage quality analyses on-farm.

After the conference delegates travelled to AFBI Hillsborough, where they were given insights to AFBI’s research work on optimising the performance of dairy, beef and sheep from high quality grass swards.

Drs Morrison and McConnell explained the latest technologies that AFBI is using to measure the performance of individual dairy cows at grass. They also explained how the GrassCheck forecasting system was helping Northern Ireland dairy farmers manage their grasslands efficiently during a very difficult year. This is a unique innovation, not replicated elsewhere in Europe and so generated great interest from the European scientists. The visiting scientists also spent time with Chris Johnston discussing the potential to separate slurry solids and transport high phosphate by-products to secondary uses off farm. Drs Lively and Aubry, then outlined recent research findings into improving beef and lamb quality off grass and the role of high quality grass and silage in reducing meat production costs and thereby improving the sustainability of beef and sheep production in Northern Ireland.

The meeting concluded with AgriSearch explaining how farmer levy funds were supporting and influencing these very farmer-relevant studies. The close and purpose-driven relationship between AFBI scientists and the farming community was another factor that impressed the European visitors.

Overall, the high quality science presented by AFBI staff at the conference and the very practical and focused studies demonstrated on the AFBI Hillsborough research farm, gave the European visitors a clear understanding of how AFBI’s international excellence in grassland science is supporting and enhancing local dairy, beef and sheep farming in Northern Ireland.