BSAS calls for secure funding for grassland farming research

Research into grazing livestock and grassland management must receive more funding and better coordination if the UK’s £8bn grassland farming sector is to be properly supported post-Brexit. 

BSAS, together with the British Grassland Society and the Stapledon Trust, said grassland farms produced more than a third of the UK’s agricultural production, as well as supporting the environment and rural areas.

But they warned that without the guarantee of support for research and livestock farms post-Brexit, the sector risked losing £1.6bn every year thanks to underutilisation of the country’s grasslands.

Speaking at an All Party Parliamentary Group on science and technology in agriculture, the organisations said 36% of the UK’s food production came for grassland systems.

Yet despite their significance to the farming sector, many businesses were struggling to make a profit, and were heavily reliant on direct payments to support their farms.

What’s more, research into grassland management and extension had become fragmented, meaning it was becoming increasingly difficult for producers to learn about - and implement - the changes they need to make to drive efficiencies.

'Fragmented research'

“The wide range in performance between farms means there’s considerable scope to improve efficiencies, and with better targeted support they could deliver a successful rural economy, a healthy natural environment, and improved productivity,” said Cledwyn Thomas of the Stapledon Trust.

What’s more, grassland research and extension is fragmented and better coordination is needed to ensure the sector meets its full potential.

The organisations insisted that Brexit provided opportunities to ensure livestock farming supported local economies, but that the importance of grassland in the process needed to be recognised.

“Grass and forage make a major contribution to the ruminant livestock sector, providing a cheap feed source and accounting for 50% of dairy cow diets, 85% in beef cattle, and up to 95% in sheep,” said former BSAS president and AFBI chief executive Sinclair Mayne.

“However significant underutilisation of UK grassland is costing the UK ruminant livestock sector in excess of £1.6bn every year - which is roughly half of current subsidy support.”

Utilising technology

Professor Mayne said as consumers preferred meat and milk from grazed animals, and that the use of grass enhanced beneficial omega 3 fatty acids in beef and lamb, the government had an interest in ensuring the sector remained supported.

And with appropriate funding, he said the sector would be able to utilise new technologies which would improve soils, drive productivity and ultimately support rural areas, he added.

The event, held in Westminster, was part of BSAS’s continued efforts to ensure the voices of animal scientists and livestock producers are heard as the government works on creating a post-Brexit domestic agricultural policy.

The society published its own white paper last May on the challenges and opportunities facing UK livestock production and animal science research, with recommendations that government funding should target applied research which encourages innovation and has road impact.

It also stressed the need for UK scientists to have access to European research funding, and for the country’s livestock sector to have appropriate skills and training.