Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Pasture Based Dairy Farmers Must Commit to Research

Last week I attended the UK Nuffield Farming Scholarship Conference in Chester. I was very impressed by the obvious learning & excitement that is the "Journey" that Nuffield takes young people in Agriculture. A "Nuffield" creates an opportunity to travel the world & enter into the wonderful experience of personal research in something agricultural.

Every 'Pasture to Profit Discussion' Group member should be aiming to win a Nuffield....its a journey that changes peoples lives & businesses forever.

Yet within the excitement of Nuffield there was also reason for deep concern. As each scholar spoke about their travels & research.........I got more troubled about where agriculture in the UK is going...what is the future? Why? Each Nuffield speaker spoke of the amazing advances in agricultural research, on farm innovation, the large scale of farming in some advanced countries like NZ, Australia, USA, Brazil, Canada & Argentina.

How are we going to compete???? In Europe agriculture is besieged by regulators, research is under funded (& in the UK almost wiped out completely) & farming innovation has been squashed by decades of debilitating subsidies. Sadly there is a culture within agriculture that does not include research as a focus for progress.
This very sad culture includes UK politicians who clearly don't respect nor value research. The inane politicians are more likely to be influenced by popular 'of the day' lobby groups (eg TB eradication & GM technology) rather than 'Good Science'.

'Pasture to Profit' grass based dairy farmers & their Discussion Groups need to totally embrace agricultural research. Our very future depends on it. Make no mistake without research & active on farm innovation there is NO future.

There are a number of different levels of research that we need to consider.
Dairy Research Funding in the UK
Recently Discussion groups financially contributed to fund young Irish researchers to travel to NZ. This is a great illustration of commitment to research.
However it begs the question about the value of DairyCo levies & the research return we get as grass based dairy farmers from DairyCo. I see little tangible evidence of research that is of value to grass based dairy farmers in the UK. Dairy research in the UK is in serious trouble in my view.
Participation in On Farm Research in the UK
At every opportunity we must get involved with & encourage on farm research projects in the UK. We can contribute, enhance the research & effectively back good science & top research teams. Being part of the projects also means we have quicker access to the results & can spread it amongst the groups. Good research will be taken up quickly.
We (members of Discussion Groups across the UK) are currently working with Dr Christina Marley's group from Aberystwyth measuring green house gases with dairy farmers who outwinter on saved pasture. A Dairy Cross Breeding research project headed by Gillian Butler from Newcastle University is about to start with another group of 'Pasture to Profit' dairy farmers. Several OMSCo grass based organic farmers are acting as Demo farms for research into energy use on dairy farms. This involvement must continue at a pace.
Access & Face to Face Contact with Top Researchers
Dairy farmers must get access to the very best Agricultural researchers & their work. We must establish a dialogue & create opportunities for direct Face to Face contact where ever possible. Many group members have benefitted by their conversations with the likes of Dr Padraig French from Moorepark, Valerie Brocard from Travarez in France or Dr Jock MacMillan from Melbourne University Australia or Dr John Roche from Ruakura NZ.
On Farm Innovation & Personal Research
Dairy farmers in grass based Discussion Groups must be at the forefront of new ideas & innovation. This involves personal research, accurate recording & bright ideas. We in the UK should 'walk tall'...........I think we lead the world in some areas eg Dairy Cow fertility & Outwintering techniques & are leaders in grass management & utilization in the Northern Hemishere.
Doing a Nuffield is an extension of this concept of 'do it yourself research'.
We in the UK are going to have to fight for our right to exist in a very competitive world. For this to be reality we must embrace research in all of its forms & spread good agricultural science & the results of the research to our Discussion Groups as fast as possible.
We are going to have to initiate change in the UK......compared to the rest of the world we are being left behind. So what are we going to do about it NOW.
"The foundation of every state is the education of its youth" quote Diogenes (Ancient Greek Philosopher 412BC-323BC)
I wonder what Diogenes would make of the state of dairy research in the UK???

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