IBERS will concentrate on the “f-words” at Sheep 2008

Farmers and flockmasters attending Sheep 2008 at Malvern on Wednesday, 30th July will see how good husbandry and good practice can mitigate some of the increased costs brought about by recent high oil prices. The stand of the Aberystwyth University-based Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) will highlight cropping options for farmers, winter management of livestock and forage benchmarking, all of which are aimed at reducing input costs. Farmers will also be shown options for diversifying the use of their land into biofuel production.

“Farmers up and down the country have been heard muttering the “f-word” a lot recently”, says Charlie Morgan, IBERS Grassland Development Centre (GDC) Extension Officer who is based at the Bronydd Mawr Research Centre.

“Be it “f” for “feed”, “fertiliser” or “fuel”, farmers and flockmasters are looking at ways to lower their costs and develop alternative sources of income from their land.” 

Upland sheep systems consisting of natural spring lambing flocks can produce finished lambs from grass and forage in an efficient and cost effective way, according to IBERS, who agree that the nutrition of the animal is every bit as important, if not more so, than its genetics.

“Good quality grass and clover is the economic key to exploit the genetic potential of the stock", says Charlie Morgan. "When farmers are asked by me what they need to produce a quality lamb, the response invariably is - a good ram. However that is only one part, and quite possibly the last piece of the jigsaw. Many farmers are disappointed with index recorded rams as they fail to get the extra performance potential from these animals."

"Cost effective quality diets based on grass and clover will allow animals to reach their improved potential - poor feed stocks will not. It is therefore imperative that the farmer embraces the whole process of producing good quality stock and looks at the number of lambs reared per ewe, kilograms of lamb produced per hectare and the costs incurred, including labour." 

New varieties of clovers and other legumes can provide home-grown protein, adding to farm biodiversity and reducing the need for expensive bought-in feeds. Clover has the capability to fix atmospheric nitrogen, so reducing the level of fertiliser nitrogen needed in mixed swards.  Certainly, legumes, especially red clover, can make significant advances in reducing fertiliser and winter feed costs.  There may also be opportunities for farmers to grow cereals for home-grown feed. 

Better utilisation of grass is high on the agenda at IBERS. The latest 'high sugar' grass varieties, produced at Aberystwyth, help farm animals use the protein in grass more efficiently and so cut risks of pollution.

“Our breeding programmes in grasses and clover will produce new varieties with the potential to contribute to reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and this is a major focus of current efforts at IBERS”, states Michael Abberton, leader of the station’s Plant Breeding programme.

Careful management of manures and targeted use of chemical fertiliser can reduce farm costs and also minimise pollution, and at the Sheep 2008 event IBERS will also be highlighting forage benchmarking. This involves analyses of soil, manures, herbage and conserved forage so that farmers use their resources better and feed their stock more efficiently.

Reviewing winter management options for Welsh livestock farmers could also help farmers cut costs, according to Heather McCalman, Grassland Development Centre Manager at IBERS, whose team has been working with many of the crop options on the network of Farming Connect Demonstration farms.

“The options they could consider to cut back on the expense of housing animals include extending the grazing season, using wood chip pads, grazing winter forage crops and off-farm wintering. This aims to help farmers look at alternatives to keeping their animals in sheds during the winter, and to assess potential cost savings for their farm”, she says. 

With margins on livestock systems getting tighter and tighter there is also a real incentive for farmers to consider other possible land-use options. Growing biomass crops is an excellent opportunity for them to tap into a rapidly growing  energy market and provide a separate income stream for the farm.

The Willow for Wales (Helyg I Gymru) project, which began in 2004 and is led by IBERS, has demonstrated that short rotation coppice willow can be successfully grown across the country. The project is now in its final year and, as the crops are harvested, growers will be able to take advantage of a very strong woodchip market. Latest results from this project will be available on the IBERS stand.

Farmers and shepherds are invited onto the stand to discuss possible options for their farms and to receive copies of relevant factsheets from IBERS staff who will be focusing on the experiences of the demonstration sheep system run as an independent unit within the Bronydd Mawr Research Centre.
“Farmers will learn how the demonstration sheep system has drawn on IBERS research to develop a standard where it is clear that, by combining best practice principles of good soil nutrient management with the efficient utilisation of high quality grass and clover swards, the potential of high indexed recorded rams can be realised and output significantly enhanced.”.

Bringing research findings such as these to the attention of the farming community at Sheep 2008 is the job of IBERS's Grassland Development Centre, which plays a key role in the National Assembly for Wales's Farming Connect programme.

"Increasing pressures on land for both food and fuel production, together with the  increased global demand for meat and milk products, mean that now is a good time for UK agriculture to benefit from existing and new scientific developments where IBERS in Wales plays such an important role”, says Charlie Morgan. 

Notes to Editors:
The Upland Sheep project at IBERS Bronydd Mawr Research Centre, funded by Farming Connect, demonstrates the value of best practice in producing finished lambs for the premium market. The system shows how modern technology can be used to produce finished lambs from grass and forage in an efficient and cost-effective way. Designing a profitable lamb production system under de-coupling subsidy arrangements/conditions is one of the aims of the fully costed sheep system.

IBERS, Aberystwyth University will be located on stand number 163 in the Avon Hall, Three Counties Showground, Malvern, Worcs.

Contacts: Charlie Morgan, Grassland Development Centre (GDC) Extension Officer on Tel: 01874 636480 or cqm@aber.ac.uk

Emma Shipman, Publicity and Events Officer, IBERS, Aberystwyth University, Gogerddan, Aberystwyth.  Tel 01970 823002 or e-mail eos@aber.ac.uk