28 December 2001

Research is set back but recent projects prevail

Many benefits from research

projects this year have been

overshadowed by the recent

mix-up of sheep and cattle

brains. Richard Allison

reports on what producers

can expect next year

WHILE foot-and-mouth continues to hamper research, some existing projects will soon arm producers with information to cut costs and improve efficiency.

This crisis has had a severe impact on MLC research funding, says MLC livestock and meat science manager Chris Warkup. "The commission came close to withdrawing funding from several of the 35 existing projects."

Hopefully, there will be sufficient funds next year to commission a small number of new projects. But there is still uncertainty over budget size, this depends on how quickly the industry recovers from F&M, says Mr Warkup.

In a normal year, the budget is about £2.5m with about 40-45% going to pig research.

But the biggest loser this year has been sheep research, where additional sheep technical projects had to be shelved.

Sheep levy income will continue to be depressed next year, but the impact on research depends on what approach the strategy councils adopt.

One option could be to bring funds from elsewhere to maintain sheep research, says Mr Warkup.

In contrast, the Milk Development Council hopes to maintain the same level of research funding next year, says council chairman Brian Peacock. But there will be a change in direction with more projects focused on topics suggested by producers.

Topics include reducing time on paperwork and bureaucracy, says its chief executive, Kevin Bellamy. But only 2% of producers felt research funds should be diverted to biosecurity despite the F&M crisis. Mr Bellamy believes this is because they see the responsibility resting solely with DEFRA, being a national issue affecting all livestock species.

But research is worthless unless its benefits reach producers, says Mr Warkup.

"To address this issue, the MLC is placing more emphasis on technical interaction projects, passing information to producers."

Looking at next year, pig producers will gain from early results of a big £1.8m project looking at improving cost-effectiveness of pig finishing.

Field trials start early next year comparing wet versus dry feeding and slatted versus straw-bedded housing, says Mr Warkup.

In Northern Ireland, the emphasis is on research which improves profitability, says researcher Sinclair Mayne. "This is particularly critical with milk prices already being affected by the downturn in world markets."

One such project at the Agricultural Research Institute of Northern Ireland, Hillsborough, will provide producers with new information to achieve more than 35 litres of milk a day with a greater reliance on grazed grass, says Dr Mayne.

There is no doubt that future DEFRA research will be more environmentally focused, says Reading Universitys David Beever. "Research at Reading University is already investigating ways to improve nutrient use by dairy cows and reduce pollution."

Next year will also see consolidation of dairy research with ADAS expertise in cow health and pharmaceutical studies merging with the universitys established dairy nutrition and physiology research team. This will help ensure the long-term survival of the industry, he believes. &#42

MLC research budgets will continue to be depressed in 2002, but existing projects will help producers cut costs, says Chris Warkup.

&#8226 F&M impact on sheep budget.

&#8226 More focused MDC funding.

&#8226 Reduce production costs.