27th August 2020 - Page 10

NOVEMBER 23 2017
Lord Curry calls for greater cohesion
over UK agriculture policy
RIGHT: Pictured at the
George Scott Robertson
Meorial Lecture 2017 are
Noel Lavery (DAERA), Barclay
Bell (UFU President), Colm
McKenna (AFBI Chair), Prof
Chris Elliott (QUB IGFS), Lord
Curry, Nigel Scollan (QUB
Director of IGFS), Dr Elizabeth
Magowan (AFBI DCEO), Dr
Norman Fulton (DAERA), Dr
Sinclair Mayne (AFBI CEO).
MALL, inefficient farm
businesses are dragging
down the profitability of
the entire industry, farm
biosecurity standards
have become too relaxed and
Northern Ireland agriculture could
find itself “pitching against” the rest
of the UK after Brexit.
This was the view of Lord Donald
Curry of Kirkharle, the keynote
speaker at the 60th George Scott
Robertson Memorial Lecture
hosted last Thursday evening
(November 16) by the AgriFood and Biosciences Institute,
in conjunction with Queen’s
University Belfast, the Ulster
Farmers’ Union and DAERA.
As a respected government
adviser, farmer and businessman,
Lord Curry was invited to
the lecture to reflect on the
progression of UK agriculture over
the last 15 years since he produced
the Curry Report of 2002.
Lord Curry said his report had
been written against the backdrop
of a very difficult decade for
farming when “every food scare
imaginable” had left consumer
confidence at an all-time low,
scientific research had fallen
foul of government cutbacks and
agriculture was not an attractive
option for young people – all of
which was still of relevance today.
Lord Curry painted a mixed
LEFT: Lord Donald
Curry delivers his keynote
address at the George Scott
Robertson Memorial Lecture
at Queen’s University.
picture of agriculture over the last
15 years, with success in some
areas and much more needed to be
done in others.
He said farming was “still
blighted by subsidies” and that the
industry must help to justify public
investment in the management of
the countryside and to convince
the UK Treasury of the need to
protect the current level of support
beyond 2020.
He praised the efforts made in
using science and research to
advance agriculture but insisted
farming still “needs to up its game”.
“We haven’t done well enough”,
he said as he pointed out that
agricultural productivity in the UK
is increasing at just 0.8 per cent per
year compared to 11 per cent in the
food manufacturing sector.
“This is directly linked to our
ability to translate scientific
research, find smart and innovative
solutions, and have skilled people
to apply new knowledge,” Lord
Curry stated.
He said that though it might be
a sensitive subject, there were too
many farm businesses struggling,
“businesses which have not
diversified or modernised”.
He added that post-Brexit,
the government “must seriously
consider a retirement package” to
encourage farmers in this bracket
to leave the industry, making way
for new entrants.
Questioned further on what he
believed this “bottom quartile”
should do, Lord Curry said: “At
one end we have many ambitious,
professionally-run great businesses
but at the bottom there is a whole
raft of people who are going to
struggle and find it very difficult.
They need help in developing new
skills, we need to flush them out
and explore what they might need
to do to adjust, adapt and change.”
However, he said there were
others which may need to be
“assisted to leave before the
business goes under, it is not kind to
say to them ‘keep soldiering on’.”
Lord Curry said that at the time
of his initial report in the wake of
the devastating foot-and-mouth
outbreak, he had described the
UK’s animal health record as
He expressed concern that some
of the progress made following
these disease outbreaks had
slowed down, claiming that
biosecurity measures on many
farms not been maintained.
“It is amazing how relaxed we
become once the pressure is off,”
he said, adding: “A key plank of
our marketing strategy post-Brexit
should be our high standards of
animal welfare and the health
status of our flocks, herds and
plants. We must not relax our
On the subject of Brexit, Lord
Curry said he was concerned at the
“lack of cohesion between the four
nations” thus far and said a balance
needed to be struck between
further devolution of agricultural
policy and cohesion across the four
“Unless we negotiate an UK
framework, we could find ourselves
pitching against each other,” he
warned, adding: “The question has
to be ‘What are the outcomes we
want from the management of the
countryside?’ From there we can
decide what the market will deliver
and where we will have to intervene
and use public funds.”
However, in concluding, he said
that despite the uncertainty of
Brexit, there was still much to be
excited about.
“We all collectively have a serious
stake in life after Brexit and the
sheet of paper is still clean. The
script is still to be written,” he
First RamCompare results announced at sheep conference
HREE new estimated breeding
values (EBVs) have been generated
as a result of a major industry sheep
breeding initiative which will help
commercial producers to select rams
which have the best potential to produce
progeny that are more likely to meet market
Preliminary results from the
RamCompare project were released to the
industry at the Sheep Breeders’ Round
Table on November 17.
The initial results rank the leading sires
within the project for a range of traits
including eight-week weight, scan weight,
muscle depth, fat depth, carcase weight,
carcase conformation, carcase fat class
and overall carcase merit. The results rank
the performance of rams on the trial using
data collected from their progeny. For some
breeds, animals in the top one per cent
were nominated and for others only the top
25 per cent and so conclusions about breed
differences should be made with caution.
The new EBVs cover carcase
conformation, carcase fat class and carcase
weight and are published within the
report for the first time. Other data, such
as ultrasound measures of muscle and fat
depth have been used to enhance existing
RamCompare is the UK’s first commercial
progeny test for terminal sire rams and
more than 4,000 ewes were mated to more
than 70 leading rams through artificial
insemination and natural service across
two breeding seasons.
Bridget Lloyd, RamCompare Project
Coordinator, said: “RamCompare has
proven that robust data can be collected
throughout the supply chain and this has
led to new approaches in assessing the
performance of pedigree animals. The new
EBVs produced will enable commercial
producers to select rams which have the
potential to produce progeny that are more
likely to meet market specification. Such
rams will be used by pedigree breeders to
produce more animals with commercially
important traits.”
Duncan Nelless, RamCompare farmer
from Northumberland, said: “Being part
of RamCompare clearly showed me the
financial advantage of selecting breeding
stock using EBVs and using rams with the
right EBVs for my system. I saw differences
of £4-£5 when using rams with the highest
genetic merit compared to others on the
The results will be updated in May
2018, with the inclusion of a further 1,500
carcase records for lambs born in late
spring 2017 which were finished later in the
The preliminary results and project report
can be found at www.ramcompare.com
Phase two of the project is well underway
involving eight farms in England, Wales
and Scotland plus a research farm in
Northern Ireland. This means more data
can be collected on hard-to-measure traits
and rams from more breeds are being
RamCompare is an industry-led project
involving partners from along the supply
chain including AgriSearch and Dunbia.
Tailored approach required for bridging
digital gap
ORE focus and a tailored
approached is required on
bridging the digital gap for
farmers in Northern Ireland, Ulster
Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson has said.
With an increased focus on moving
to online services, DAERA needs to
put extra resources into ensuring no
farmer is left behind in the move to a
more digitalise world.
This comes in response to calls
from EU Agri Commissioner Phil
Hogan for the EU to focus on a digital
transformation within farming.
Mr Nicholson said: “In an ever
evolving digital world, with a far
greater focus on online connectivity,
the world of agriculture has to
develop as well. However, this
progression should not mean that
any farmer is left behind.
“Farming infrastructure is
developing. New technologies are
always being developed, such as
robotic milking parlours, and they
rely heavily on online connectivity.
These technologies are becoming
more and more advanced.
“Rural regions that suffer from poor
broadband need to be addressed
quickly and that will require a crosscutting and joined up approach to
address this.
“There is also a requirement for
the department to put in support
structures for farmers that are
unable to use online technologies. A
tailored approach is required, and
I have written to the department to
ask them to outline what they are
doing to address this issue.
“Many of these farmers are the
backbone of our rural economies and
the digital gap needs to be addressed
and therefore bridged.”


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