New grassland research programme looks for Welsh sheep and beef farmers

Beef and sheep farms are needed for a new project which will help farmers across Great Britain improve management of their grassland.

Improving grassland management efficiency is a key driver of profitability on beef and sheep farms across the UK. A recent study carried out by the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) showed that improving pasture utilisation by one tonne per hectare is worth an additional profit of £204 per hectare per year to a beef farm.

GrassCheckGB aims to improve grassland productivity and pasture utilisation on beef and sheep farms through a new grassland performance monitoring network. This will benchmark current and potential performance, support novel grassland research and encourage uptake of innovative grassland management practices such as pasture (grazing) management and nutrient budgeting.

The project will see levy bodies Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC), the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) and Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) partnering with the Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock (CIEL) and researchers at AFBI and Rothamsted Research.

HCC’s Gwawr Parry, Industry Development Officer said: “Grassland is an imperative feed resource in Wales and Welsh sheep and beef farms are renowned for their grass-fed produce. HCC is focused on utilising and improving grassland management to assist businesses in becoming more efficient. We are encouraging Welsh producers to get involved in this project in the interest of enhancing and protecting grass growth in Wales.

“The programme has been successfully implemented in Northern Ireland since 1999 and most recently the data has been used to offer evidence to the NI Government on the magnitude of the impact of the drought and inform discussions on how much support the industry needs. Welsh sheep and beef producers, through this collaboration, have this fantastic opportunity to trial new technologies for measuring grass growth on their farms”

CIEL is supporting the purchase of equipment on farms through funds from Innovate UK, the UK’s Innovation Agency. The GrassCheckGB project will monitor the growth and quality of pasture, make predictions of future growth and report this to the industry on a weekly basis.

The project is being part-funded from the £2 million fund of AHDB red meat levies ring-fenced for collaborative projects which is managed by the three GB meat levy bodies – AHDB, HCC and QMS.

The ring-fenced fund is an interim arrangement while a long-term solution is sought on the issue of levies being collected at point of slaughter in England, for animals which have been reared in Scotland or Wales.

Lyndsay Chapman, CEO of CIEL, said: “It’s great to see this collaboration across the three industry bodies focused on supporting the beef and lamb sector combined with research expertise from AFBI and Rothamsted Research – all recognise the importance of efficient pasture management for profitable and efficient ruminant livestock farming.”

Participant farmers will be required to measure grass each week throughout the grazing season, with regular grass samples taken for analysis. Each of the pilot farms will have an automatic weather station installed, which will measure key metrological data such as temperature, rainfall and sunshine hours.

Farmers involved in the project will receive detailed information on grassland productivity and utilisation, nutrient efficiency and performance of livestock from grass on their farm together with predictions of future pasture growth and quality. They’ll also have the opportunity to discuss their grassland performance with pasture management experts and other farmers directly involved in the project.

Up to 25 beef or sheep farms are needed to kick-start the project. Applications to participate in GrassCheckGB are now being sought. Application forms and information packs can be downloaded here.  For general queries contact CIEL, telephone 01904 567716 or email enquiries@cielivestock.co.uk .