Sustainable Responses to Farming Challenges

The first Royal Welsh Show since the merger of IGER with Aberystwyth University will see the newly formed Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) promoting “Sustainable Responses to Farming Challenges”.

The main exhibit on IBERS’ stand at this year’s event, which takes place from 21-24 July, will look at “Food and Fuel” and show  how livestock farming and growing crops for biofuel can co-exist on grassland farms, not only providing farmers with an extra source of revenue but also providing environmental benefits.

Breeding programmes of forage grasses and clovers at IBERS are focused on the need to increase the efficiency and sustainability of grassland agriculture.  Exhibits will show how grassland can provide both feed for ruminants and feedstocks for fermentations that lead to biofuel or biorenewable replacements for the petrochemical industry.

IBERS, in collaboration with a range of partners, is looking at the feasibility of using perennial ryegrass for production of ethanol as a transport fuel.  This could represent a potential new source of income for farmers, without using crops normally grown for human food, such as wheat or maize.

Other options can be growing biomass products such as short rotation coppiced willow and miscanthus. Scientists will be on hand to outline the contribution biomass can play in reducing carbon emissions and meeting future energy, heat and electricity and industrial material needs in a sustainable way.

Exhibits are at the IBERS’ stand in a marquee for research in the Countryside Care area and in the Education pavilion at an additional stand which will also focus on other ongoing science programmes conducted at the Institute. These include work on the genetic improvement of perennial ryegrass and red clover to reduce nitrogen losses to water from pastures and silos, and on increasing the efficiency of rumen processes which can lead to reduced emissions to the atmosphere of ammonia and the powerful greenhouse gases, methane and nitrous oxide.

“Animal manures can play a vital role on the farm because they contain valuable plant nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium, sulphur and phosphorus. It makes sound economic sense to conserve and exploit these nutrients rather than letting them go to waste and running the risk of air and water pollution”, said IBERS Senior Extension Officer, Heather McCalman. 

“IBERS will be providing information on its research outputs not only in relation to the food or fuel conundrum but also to improved utilisation of secondary plant or natural products for both the food and farming industries”, said Dr Dave Davies, IBERS’ Agriculture Outreach Manager.

Benefiting from combined research programmes previously undertaken at the University’s Institute of Rural Sciences (IRS) and IGER, and now bearing fruit through mutual collaboration at IBERS, scientists and researchers have been developing plant and herbal extracts for use in silage inoculants and others which may enhance the wound healing properties of products designed for injured horses. 

“Currently there are well over 100 products available on the UK market that purport to promote wound healing in horses, but the efficacy of only a small number has undergone adequate testing”, according to Dr Mike Rose who is leading the research by screening plant-derived extracts, provided by a number of collaborator organisations, in order to identify under laboratory conditions the novel compounds that affect the healing process.

Professor Jamie Newbold’s task is to screen plant extracts, previously identified as having antimicrobial activity, for their ability to control pathogen growth in silage.  “These extracts will then be used to enhance existing silage additive formulations in order to produce a new generation of products promoting safe nutritious animal feed with little risk of pathogen transfer either to farmers in Wales or to their livestock”, said Professor Newbold.  

“This is another excellent example of a research collaboration previously undertaken by IRS and IGER but which has now been formalised with the merger into IBERS. Such collaborations will help take the newly formed body forward and further establish its credentials as a foremost centre of excellence in education, research and enterprise which is recognised worldwide”, added Dave Davies. 

"The IBERS stand will also exhibit the potential value to farmers of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for agricultural and environmental mapping by means of hyperspectral cameras.  A full-scale UAV will feature prominently on the stand. This technology can be used to monitor biodiversity of grass swards, to provide early warning of crop disease and to estimate fertiliser requirements.  Other longer term possibilities will include drought monitoring and pollution control.

“The key focus is to give farmers in Wales more options in a changing world and show them how they can utilise the research outputs of IBERS to help provide sustainable responses to farming changes”, said Dave Davies. 

Further information:

Emma Shipman, Publicity and Events Officer, IBERS Business Office, Aberystwyth University 01970 823002 /

Arthur Dafis, Press and Public Relations, Aberystwyth University
01970 621763 / 07841 979 452 /