Sorely needed livestock research hub set to open near York

The former site of the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) at Sand Hutton near York which will serve as the hub for the Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Livestock.
The former site of the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) at Sand Hutton near York which will serve as the hub for the Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Livestock.
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Long overdue investment in the country’s “crumbling” agricultural research facilities is about to see a new centre open in North Yorkshire that should lead to a more profitable livestock sector.

The Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Livestock (CIEL) is due to be unveiled imminently at the former premises of science agency Fera at Sand Hutton near York.

We have fantastic research going on at all these institutes but it doesn’t get to our industry.

Jonathan Statham, partner at Bishopton Veterinary Group

The £86.5million project is being financially backed over five years by major universities, more than 80 companies and nearly 30 industry organisations, with £32m secured through the Government’s £90m Agri-Tech Strategy.

Specialising in research to develop ways of improving livestock welfare, herd efficiency and enhancing meat quality, the centre near York will act as a “front office” hub for research projects being carried out by academic and scientific institutes across the UK.

It will also be linked to other centres for innovation in different farming sectors. This will enable ideas that benefit these other sectors to easily be examined for how they may be adapted to boost livestock farming.

Jonathan Statham, partner of Ripon-based Bishopton Veterinary Group, one of the stakeholders in the centre, said CIEL was desperately needed to translate current research into commercial solutions for farmers.

Speaking at the NFU’s Northern Beef and Lamb Conference at Scotch Corner Hotel this week, Mr Statham said: “There has been a lack of investment (in research and development in agriculture) for 20 years. Our research farms and institutes are crumbling so big multi-nationals take their research projects abroad. It’s cheaper, it’s usually better and it has got some money to run it.

“If I have a project that is ready now, I’ve probably got to wait years in the queue because we haven’t got the infrastructure to do it. We have let it run down, we haven’t reinvested and because of that there’s no capacity.”

He said: “We have fantastic research going on at all these (existing) institutes but it doesn’t get to our industry. We give it away and it gets implemented in New Zealand and other parts of the world.

“(Now) the opportunity is there, the infrastructure has been built and there is a pledge of research money.”

Levy payers group AHDB Beef & Lamb is a key collaborator in bringing new centre to fruition, and Kim Matthews, the organisation’s head of research and development, said the project represents the largest investment in research infrastructure in the UK livestock industry for decades.

Ms Matthews said: “It brings together the UK’s key research and knowledge exchange providers in the beef, dairy, pork, poultry and sheep sectors in a unique collaboration covering the whole food chain at all levels.

“The aim is to create a one-stop shop for research related to livestock production and product quality, with the ultimate objective of growing the profitability of those sectors.”

The focus of the research co-ordinated by the centre concerns six key topics: animal health and welfare, nutrition, genetics, meat quality, sustainable production and systems.

INNOVATION MUST BE SHARED

INvestment in agricultural innovation has traditionally be more closely geared towards the arable sector, according to Mr Statham, who hopes that lesson is now being learnt.

“In the arable industry who would think 20 years ago that we would be using satellite guidance systems to precision farm really scare and expensive resources like fertiliser? Yet we do.

“But how much of this kind of thing are we seeing in the livestock industry?”

He added: “We have got an opportunity here in the North of England. CIEL it’s a real thing happening, that is about to come live, literally in the next week.”