Over 80 farmers in Northern Ireland have applied to take part in AgriSearch's two new, on-farm research projects - an over-subscription of nearly 170%.

The farmers who applied registered an interest in becoming a pilot farmer in the new GrassCheck and 'Beef from Grass' projects.

Out of all the applications 30 farmers will be chosen, with 12 dairy farms and 18 beef farms from across Northern Ireland set to be selected.

These new projects aim to maximise the use of grass, according to AgriSearch, which is the Agricultural Research and Development Council in the North, Chairman Michael Bell.

Monitoring grass growth and quality through the 2017 growing season to better understand grass growing conditions across the region will be the key focus of the projects.

A study carried out by the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), showed that for every extra tonne of grass dry matter utilised per hectare margins improved significantly on a farm.

These improvements equated to £441 (€504) per hectare per year on dairy farms and by £204 (€233) per hectare per year on a beef and sheep farm, he said.

These two innovative projects will give us a much better understanding of the potential for grass growth and utilisation on various land types and farming systems.

"With the aim being to have this ‘Better data leading to better farming’ and improved margins,” Bell said.

Details of the Projects

AgriSearch and AFBI have decided to substantially increase the scope of the GrassCheck project by recruiting 12 pilot dairy farmers.

GrassCheck is AgriSearch’s longest running research programme and the data it collects has proved extremely valuable to the industry in the past.

In 2002, the results from GrassCheck were used to provide evidence to support the weather aid scheme delivering £4.57m (€5.23m) of payments to farmers in the North.

In 2013, the project's data was also used for the fodder transport scheme which had a £1m (€1.14m) subsidy.

Each of these dairy pilot farms will also have an automatic weather station installed, which will measure key data such as temperature, rainfall and soil moisture.

Grass growth and grazing conditions were hugely variable in 2016 in the North, which had significant implications on animal performance and feed costs, AgriSearch General Manager Jason Rankin said.

It is important that we both monitor and understand this variation to assist farmers in managing grass throughout the season.

Meanwhile, the 'Beef from Grass' project will be jointly funded by AgriSearch and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and is set to begin early this year.

As part of this project 18 beef farms will be recruited to measure grass growth and quality across a range of production systems and land types.

Successful applicants to the project will be required to measure grass each week throughout the grazing season, while regular grass samples will also be taken for analysis.