Grass is greener for local farmers

Pictured from left are Debbie McConnell (AFBI), Lyndsey Chapman (CIEL), Elizabeth Magowan (AFBI), Ian Cox (Innovate UK) and Tim Bennett (CIEL) at the Launch of AFBI's unique 'Precision Grassland Platform'
Pictured from left are Debbie McConnell (AFBI), Lyndsey Chapman (CIEL), Elizabeth Magowan (AFBI), Ian Cox (Innovate UK) and Tim Bennett (CIEL) at the Launch of AFBI's unique 'Precision Grassland Platform'

A new research platform has been unveiled by the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) to help the UK livestock industry optimise the use of grassland in dairy and beef production systems.

The Precision Grassland Platform will allow scientists to study the grazing environment in detail, testing new innovations in grassland management and track the interactions from the soil, through the plant to the animal and the resultant meat and milk produced.

A better understanding of these interactions will drive improvements in both productivity as well as environmental sustainability.

Its development has been supported by a £1.2million investment from CIEL (Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock) through funding from the UK’s Innovation Agency, Innovate UK.

Highly instrumented, technology and data driven, the platform is the first of its kind in the Northern hemisphere due to its complexity and high level of integration. It encompasses 78ha of “connected landscape”. Using sensors and technology, it integrates detailed soil, plant, animal and climatic data to give a comprehensive view of the key components of the grassland ecosystem and their interactions. A network of wireless relay towers feed data back from the grazing environment every 15 minutes day and night.

The information collected will support a precision focus on nutrient application, grass growth and utilisation, animal behaviour and grass management. This uplift in the quality and quantity of data will be key to improving grassland management on farm addressing the grand challenges facing the sector such as improving efficiency in production systems and the drive to become carbon neutral.

The platform will be used to study dairy and beef management in grassland systems and provide trial facilities under commercially relevant conditions for ruminant research. A number of projects, funded by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and AgriSearch, are already underway with the new technologies at AFBI. Recent results from trials on nutrient use efficiency, nutrition of animals at pasture, grass growth and quality forecasting and animal grazing behaviour were presented at the launch event.

Speaking at the event, Dr Elizabeth Magowan, Director of Sustainable Agri-Food Science at AFBI commented: “Grass is the cornerstone of ruminant livestock sectors and there is significant potential to lift both our grassland productivity and the efficiency with which we utilise this vital resource.

“This platform is an important component of our vision to advance the local and global agri-food sectors, through scientific excellence, by providing new capability for industry innovation and informing government policy.

“This platform, and the science delivered from it, will contribute significantly to AFBI Hillsborough being an exemplar ‘Farm of the Future’ in terms of environmental sustainability, social responsibility and economic viability.”

CIEL CEO Lyndsay Chapman added: “This important investment is part of the £3.2 million CIEL has invested into new agri-tech at AFBI. The ruminant capability here complements our research facilities within the wider CIEL alliance.”