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Livestock farmers are being invited to join a new project to improve grass management by using data from space to boost productivity and sustainability.

Livestock farmers are being invited to join a new project to improve grass management by using data from space to boost productivity and sustainability.

The Field Lab trials, coordinated by the Innovative Farmers network, will connect farmers with digital experts at the University of Edinburgh and Environment Systems to help monitor pasture growth and quality.

Funded by Innovate UK, the digital tool will be designed in partnership with farmers. It will use advanced algorithms based on satellite data, such as weather information and field images taken from space.

This will help to deliver regular updates and predictions to farmers, helping to improve grassland productivity and sustainability.

The PASTORAL – Pasture Optimisation for Resilience and Livelihoods – data from the project will be delivered regularly to participants. It will focus on the three main outdoor livestock sectors: beef, lamb, and dairy.

Pasture quality

Environment Systems founder and director Steve Keyworth said: “Until now, farmers have relied on their experience and tools like rising plate meters to use small samples to assess how much grass will be available for grazing.

“But this doesn’t give producers a complete picture – and with a changing climate it is becoming increasingly difficult to predict growth, which can make decision-making challenging for farmers.”

Cutting edge technology, could revolutionise pasture performance by using satellite data to forecast in real time how grasslands would perform under different conditions. Farmers could then make the right adjustments, boosting pasture quality and quantity.

Mr Keyworth said: “It should also improve farm sustainability by showing the potential for carbon storage on pastures, and help to reduce the need for imported feed supplements and chemical applications.

“We need farmers to be involved in designing this service from the start so it works for them and is tested in real farming situations.”

Healthier soils

Innovative Farmers and Soil Association livestock advisor Kate Still said: “If farmers know more accurately how their pastures are performing, they can develop their business to make even better use of them, delivering more forage for their animals.

She added: “This increased information on productivity can build confidence to farm more agro-ecologically, creating healthier soils that can store more carbon and support more wildlife.

“It is essential that farmers have access to all the information about their farms that could unlock these benefits, and that they are involved in developing the right tools to help them translate that data.

“This is a really exciting area with lots of potential, and we would encourage livestock farmers to get in touch to help shape the development of the tool, so it truly delivers for resilient farm businesses.”

The field lab trials are the first to launch in Innovative Farmers’ 10th anniversary year, during which the programme is celebrating the achievements from a decade of enabling farmer-led research.

Triallists will join 12,000 UK farmers that the Innovative Farmers has connected with since 2012, spanning some 120 field lab projects that have placed farmers in the driving seat of agricultural research.

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