Applications are invited from dairy farmers to a study tour to the South West of Scotland to learn about advanced breeding technologies.

This is part of the Farm Innovation visits organised by DAERA and will include the use of herd data available through milk recording and herd recording packages which can aid breeding decisions as well as the use of new genetic indices, genomics and sire mating programs.

Genetic progress on farm is relatively slow and can take generations, but the effects are additive from generation to generation.

However, where there is strategic long term selection that makes use of data through selection of the most appropriate sires and considered selection of dams for breeding on the female side, the rate of genetic progress can be speeded up.

As part of the Farm Innovation Visits trip scheme DAERA are planning a trip in late summer to visit four farm visits over two days make use of data and various other technologies to assist in their breeding decisions.

This will include a visits to at least one of the Fast Breeders herds - a group of farmers in SW Scotland who successfully secured funding from the Scottish Government in 2019 to work with the SRUC to establish a breeding programme using innovative breeding technologies to improve productivity.

The first step was genetic indexing of cows to identify the most productive from which to breed replacements with the aim of developing a full breeding programme in the longer term to improve the resilience and sustainability of their grass-based herds. It is also planned to visit a few herds producing some 11,000 to 12,000 litres.

During the trip there will also be a visit to the SRUC Dairy Research Centre at Crichton Royal Farm, Dumfries, home to the Langhill Dairy Herd - the world’s longest running genetic selection trial.

This was established in the early 1970s to select for fat plus protein yield and has developed over time to include contrasting management strategies with the feeding of either 1.5 or 4.5 tonne of concentrate per cow per annum, with data on feed efficiency being used to develop the new FeedAdvantage index within the £PLI.

The two-day tour will be faciliated by Prof Mike Coffey of the SRUC who together with Marco Winters has pioneered advances in dairy cattle breeding in the UK over the last 20 years.

It is proposed to depart on the early morning ferry to Cairnryan tour on the first day and return on the evening of the second day, visiting two dairy farms in the south west of Scotland each day and staying overnight in Dumfries.

There will also be an evening workshop where discussion will be led by Prof Coffey on genomic testing of dairy heifers and making use of genomically tested young sires to speed up genetic progress.

Dates have not yet been finalised but the two-day trip is likely to take place in late August or early September, leaving from Greenmount Campus, CAFRE on the morning of the first day and returning to Greenmount late the following evening. Applications are invited from one member or employee of a farm business that has had dairy cows in any one of the last two years (2021 or 2022), is over 18 years old on the application closing date and not in full-time education.

Up to 20 places are available on this trip and will be allocated on a competitive basis with preference given to applicants who milk record and have not been on a FIV trip previously.

If there is sufficient interest and funding becomes available there may be the opportunity to run a subsequent trip in autumn 2023.

To increase the benefits arising from the study tour, all applicants must identify a group of farmers to share their findings with upon their return.

The Farm Innovation Visit Scheme, which is part of the NI Rural Development Programme and part funded by the EU, will cover the costs associated with setting up the visit, accommodation, travel outside of Northern Ireland and meals when in Great Britain. Participants will be expected to meet any additional costs, including farm relief and travel insurance.

Dairy farmers who are interested in participating in this study tour can find out more details and complete an online application at: Applications can be completed online from Monday 12 June to Friday 30 June 2023 at 4.00 pm.