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HRH The Princess Royal visited our Devon campus today to hear about a new chapter in sustainable livestock production and the 60-year heritage on which this builds.

  • 24
  • SEP
  • 2018

Sheep and cattle were the focus of royal attention today, along with the science of raising such livestock sustainably to reduce their environmental impact, when HRH The Princess Royal visited the agricultural research campus of Rothamsted Research at North Wyke, near Okehampton in Devon.

The Princess Royal joined celebrations of more than half a century of livestock research at North Wyke, which brings together many local and regional researchers, farmers and small businesses, and heard about plans for a new, £2 million research facility to support the UK’s sheep industry.

Princess Royal at North Wyke Credit: Rothamsted ResearchAchim Dobermann and Michael Lee greet HRH The Princess Royal and Her Majesty's Lord-Lieutenant of Devon, David Fursdon

The Small Ruminant Research Facility, due to be in place early next year, will address policy and industry needs around sustainable ruminant livestock production using sheep as a model for all ruminants. This is important because often the cost of initial investigations in dairy or beef cows can be prohibitive.

“This state-of-the-art facility will be invaluable for the next generation of livestock science researchers to analyse, at a farm system scale, the impact of management decisions on sheep productivity at the level currently afforded to cattle,” says Michael Lee, Head of Sustainable Agricultural Sciences at North Wyke.

Lee, who is also Professor of Sustainable Livestock Systems at Bristol Veterinary School, hosted The Princess Royal alongside Achim Dobermann, Director and Chief Executive of Rothamsted Research, which is itself marking 175 years since the start of agricultural research at its campus in Hertfordshire in 1843.

“We have been delighted to welcome The Princess Royal to our Devon campus today,” says Dobermann. “Her Royal Highness was keen to find out more about every aspect of the research that takes place here.”

“She has bamboozled us with her knowledge,” adds Lee.

Princess Royal at North Wyke Credit: Rothamsted ResearchPrincess Royal at North Wyke Credit: Rothamsted ResearchHRH The Princess Royal was keen to find out more about every aspect of research at North Wyke

The visit provided an opportunity to bring together many of the academic, industry and farming stakeholders who have helped contribute to the research at North Wyke. They continue to support the need for research in the livestock sector, which contributes over £8 billion a year to the UK economy.

“As The Princess Royal unveiled a plaque to commemorate her visit,” says Dobermann, “Her Royal Highness told an audience of friends and colleagues of North Wyke, that what is so valuable here is our ability to produce information for farmers for whichever farm system they happen to be using, and to be able to measure accurately and appropriately.”

Princess Royal at North Wyke Credit: Rothamsted ResearchRothamsted's ability to produce information for farmers, for whichever farm system they happen to be using, is so valuable

Dobermann continues: “Her Royal Highness reminded us that Rothamsted’s reputation and experience are older and longer than most, in terms of agricultural research, and that it’s a huge encouragement to those who still farm, under whatever heading, that there are people in research who are genuinely keen to understand the problems and to find practical answers that are applicable to those who actually work on the land.”

Lee adds: “The new facility is a testament to Rothamsted’s commitment to the need to address issues of food security, and research on grazing livestock systems in particular, and will provide vital, evidence-based support for the UK sheep industry for decades to come.”

The facility will open up new areas of investigation. It will enable detailed animal feeding trials on grassland systems to be monitored using a range of instrumentation across the entire production season. There is scope to cover 600 ewes and their lambs, their feed and the land they graze on.

The findings will help farmers to make informed decisions about when animals require supplemental or residual feed, and the best feed to use to maximise production from pasture. The overall aim is efficient production, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and better silage with maximum availability of minerals.

Princess Royal at North Wyke Credit: Rothamsted ResearchMichael Lee introduces The Princess Royal to young researchers at North Wyke

Investment in the new facility has come from Rothamsted, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock (CIEL), which is one of the UK’s four agri-tech centres.

There is increasing recognition of the vital role that grazing livestock play in a healthy agricultural system, in boosting soil fertility and in helping to sequester carbon in carefully managed pastures, all part of sustaining a circular economy.

Livestock industries are seeking advice on how best to raise livestock on land that is not suitable for arable crops, either by growing crops for animal feed or by using the land for grazing. This sort of land can be difficult to manage sustainably; it can waste nutrients, which can pollute waterways, for example.

And this is where Rothamsted’s North Wyke Farm Platform (NWFP) provides a unique resource; a way to establish how best to use such land in an environmentally sustainable manner to produce high quality food, either directly through grazing or indirectly by growing food for animals. 

Three “farmlets” make up the farm platform. They provide real-world, farm-scale models that enable researchers, farmers, and industry to compare and contrast a variety of approaches to raising livestock sustainably, and the data to support their findings.

Princess Royal at North Wyke Credit: Rothamsted ResearchJane Hawkins describes North Wyke's past and present with HRH The Princess Royal

“Her Royal Highness was very interested in how we manage the inputs and outputs and, in particular, the cattle and sheep on our farmlets,” says Jane Hawkins, a specialist in soil and water science at Rothamsted.

“The Princess Royal wanted to know more about how we are monitoring all the metrics of the farm platform, and about the land management before the platform was established, in particular the grass species that were here originally, and how those compare with our current permanent pasture,” adds Hawkins.

Research at North Wyke is helping to address some of agriculture’s most pressing challenges, such as mitigating and adapting to climate change, protecting natural resources, maintaining food security, and sustaining the pasture-based livestock systems that are dominant in regions such as the South West of England.

FOR IMAGES: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rothamsted/albums/72157673769818938

About CIEL
The Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock (CIEL) works to identify key challenges to the UK’s farmed animal industries and provide world-leading, applied solutions through a research base of 12 leading UK academic institutions. We have helped to co-fund the development of new research facilities that are designed to bridge the gap between basic academic research and commercial products, utilising a range of projects, from small, pilot-scale experiments through to commercial-scale trials. We act as a “one-stop-shop” for the livestock sector, helping to simplify the research & innovation process by drawing together expertise, trial facilities and contracts across multiple institutions. CIEL is one of four agri-tech centres in the UK (CIEL, CHAP, Agri-EPI Centre and Agrimetrics). These are a unique collaboration between Government, academia and industry to drive greater efficiency, resilience and wealth across the agri-food sector. A £90m investment from the UK’s strategic innovation agency (Innovate UK) is enabling the centres to harness leading UK research and expertise as well as build new infrastructures and innovation. The centres are essential catalysts for change. They are a gateway for businesses seeking access to the very best science, expertise and technologies – stimulating new research, technology and solutions for the agrifood sector. Each has its own unique focus, building capabilities that can lead the world in delivering sustainable food and farming solutions.

About Rothamsted Research
Rothamsted Research is the longest-running agricultural research institute in the world. We work from gene to field with a proud history of ground-breaking discoveries, from crop treatment to crop protection, from statistical interpretation to soils management. Our founders, in 1843, were the pioneers of modern agriculture, and we are known for our imaginative science and our collaborative influence on fresh thinking and farming practices.
Through independent science and innovation, we make significant contributions to improving agri-food systems in the UK and internationally. In terms of the institute’s economic contribution, the cumulative impact of our work in the UK was calculated to exceed £3000 million a year in 20151. Our strength lies in our systems approach, which combines science and strategic research, interdisciplinary teams and partnerships.
Rothamsted is also home to three unique resources. These National Capabilities are open to researchers from all over the world: The Long-Term Experiments, Rothamsted Insect Survey and the North Wyke Farm Platform.
We are strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), with additional support from other national and international funding streams, and from industry. We are also supported by the Lawes Agricultural Trust (LAT).
For more information, visit https://www.rothamsted.ac.uk/; Twitter @Rothamsted
1Rothamsted Research and the Value of Excellence: A synthesis of the available evidence, by Séan Rickard (Oct 2015)

About BBSRC
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by government, BBSRC invested £469 million in world-class bioscience in 2016-17. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
More information about BBSRC, our science and our impact.
More information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes

About LAT
The Lawes Agricultural Trust, established in 1889 by Sir John Bennet Lawes, supports Rothamsted Research’s national and international agricultural science through the provision of land, facilities and funding. LAT, a charitable trust, owns the estates at Harpenden and Broom's Barn, including many of the buildings used by Rothamsted Research. LAT provides an annual research grant to the Director, accommodation for nearly 200 people, and support for fellowships for young scientists from developing countries. LAT also makes capital grants to help modernise facilities at Rothamsted, or invests in new buildings.