Major Open Days are being at AFBI Hillsborough next week for dairy, beef and sheep farmers.

The first day – Tuesday, June 18 – will focus on dairy systems and guided tours will take place every hour between 10am and 2.30pm.

Then on Wednesday, June 19, the focus will be on beef and sheep, with tours each hour between 1pm and 5.30pm.

In this article, Dr. David Patterson of AFBI Hillsborough assesses grassland.

“Livestock farming in Northern Ireland is heavily reliant on grassland, which covers approximately 93 per cent of the farmed land area.

“Well-managed grass-based farming systems can play a significant role in Northern Ireland’s ability to build resilience to climate change and improve our local air and water quality, whilst delivering efficient and profitable food production.

“The open days are a great opportunity for all farmers in the livestock sector in Northern Ireland to see and hear how the latest AFBI research on grassland productivity can help to understand past and future trends in response to changes in weather patterns and longer-term temperature change.

“AFBI modelling is predicting that due to higher average temperatures in the future, there is the potential for NI to grow more grass in the future, but this grass growth will be more volatile due to extreme dry and wet weather events.

“AFBI researchers will discuss these future predictions of grass growth patterns and strategies for farmers to help manage these to maximise the production of grass and the production of meat and milk from future grass swards.

“The key solutions that could be adopted by farmers will include aspects of precision grazing management, harnessing biological nitrogen from legumes and adding novel species to build diversity into grassland platforms.

“The goal is to ensure that farms will be able to withstand the climatic, environmental and economic challenges that are currently facing meat and milk production in the future.

“On both days, guided tours will include talks on soils, grassland management, livestock nutrition and genetics and environmental sustainability amongst other topics.

“There will also be focus areas where farmers will have a chance to chat to scientists and CAFRE development advisors on a one-to-one basis.

“The grassland focus area will feature exhibits on virtual fencing, grass budgeting and grass varieties.”

Pre-registration is essential for these events and can be found at


Dr. Francis Lively of AFBI Hillsborough also looks at climate change and reducing carbons.

He said: “The agricultural industry is under pressure to support more environmentally sustainable farming practices.

“To meet the targets set out by the Climate Change Act (NI) 2022, there is urgent need to decarbonise our beef production systems.

“Methane production – a by-product of microbial fermentation – is by far the greatest challenge facing the red meat industry currently.

“Methods to reduce methane production include both direct and indirect methods.

“Direct methods of reducing methane production per kg of feed consumed is normally associated with genetic selection for more efficient animals, or through dietary supplements which inhibit the production of methane.

“The most effective indirect methods involve reducing the number of unproductive days in the animal’s lifecycle, namely reducing the days to slaughter, and improving fertility.

“The average slaughter age for steers and heifers in Northern Ireland during 2023 was 28 and 26 months respectively.

“There is potential to reduce the average slaughter age to 24 months, or younger, through improving the nutrition and performance during the lifetime of the animal.

“AFBI research has clearly shown how improvements in forage quality – both grazed grass and grass silage – can enhance performance during the growing and finishing phases of the animal’s life cycle.

“Improving the quality of the forage substitutes the need for high levels of concentrates to achieve younger slaughter ages without compromising on carcass weights.

“Whilst concentrates would enhance performance and aid younger slaughter ages, they increase the amount of imported phosphorus onto the farm, which creates another environmental problem, so should be avoided as far as possible.”

After the guided tour, there will be opportunities to choose to go on a Feature Tour to the Biomass Connect Platform and a series of focus areas where AFBI scientists and CAFRE development advisers will be on hand to discuss wider themes within these topics, and others such as animal health and welfare.

The wider agri-industry will also be present in a village area where farmers can engage with stakeholders in areas such as health and safety on-farm, education courses available in the agri-food sector, and farmers’ wellbeing, to name but a few.

There will be lots to see, so all are welcome to come and spend a few hours or longer as it suits.

The events will close at 5.15pm on June 18 and 8.15pm on June 19.

Car parking will be in the Hillsborough Castle car park off the A1 dual carriageway, and visitors will be bused to the event.