Members of the European Cattle Innovation Partnership listening to presentations during a visit to the Steele family farm at Rowreagh, Kircubbin

The practical results of close links between farmers and research scientists impressed visitors attending a European Cattle Innovation Partnership, ECIP, meeting held in Northern Ireland.

Representatives of farm research levy bodies from the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, France, UK and the Irish Republic visited AFBI, Hillsborough and the Kircubbin, Co Down ‘UK dairy farm of the year 2012’ of William Steele, who runs a 450 cow herd with sons Thomas and Samuel

All these funding organisations belonging to the European Cattle Innovation Partnerships are committed to sharing results so as to make best use of limited funds by minimising duplication of research work.

The ECIP, whose membership includes AgriSearch, the Northern Ireland Agricultural Research and Development Council, is planning a joint research project relating to phosphorus in agriculture. It is hoped to obtain major funding from the EU for applied research to help solve phosphate problems seen in several member states.

At the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, AFBI, Hillsborough Dr Alistair Carson gave the international group an over view of current and planned R & D projects, including those supported by the dairy sector through AgriSearch.   Researchers Tianhai Yan and Dr Conrad Ferris then gave an update on environmental issues before the party were shown around by Chris Johnston, Dr Steven Morrison and Dr Conrad Ferris for further briefings on beef research, BOVIS and the EREC.

The European group was taken to visit the Steele family farm on the Ards Peninsula because it is one of several involved as co-researchers with AFBI. This link between farmers and scientists to extend research investigations across large numbers of cows in practical farming circumstances is normal in NI. However it greatly impressed the visitors from several nations where this system of on-farm research is a novelty.

On arrival the ECIP party was given an overview of management practices on this high input farm currently involved in a Research Challenge Fund, RCF, project examining early lactation feeding strategies and the recently completed RCF project on dry cow feeding.

This 450 cow dairy unit is also one of the farms currently taking part in the EU Dairyman project. During the farm visit Dr Alistair Carson made a presentation on the role of ‘on-farm’ research programmes with Dr Conrad Ferris providing an overview of RCF project results, while John Bailey reviewed the activities of Dairyman.

Then followed a lively ‘question and answer’ time as Thomas Steele took the group on a tour of the  Rowreagh Farm’s dairy unit based around a rotary parlour used to milk 450 cows thrice daily.

 The evening concluded with a much appreciated Berry barbeque meal featuring local food and drink.