Quality of on-farm data critical in developing new pasture management tool

PASTORAL’s latest workshop with farmers – an Innovate UK funded project which aims to develop a new tool to support on-farm decision making for pasture management - highlighted the complexities that farmers encounter in their day-to-day livestock management.

Hosted by Innovative Farmers, the 90-minute online workshop (which took place on 28 February) garnered ideas and inputs from more than 30 farm businesses, and showed the diversity in UK farming systems and wealth of expertise in the sector.

PASTORAL (Pasture Optimisation for Resilience and Livelihoods) is developing a state-of-the-art new digital tool to provide farmers with insight and foresight to maximise their pasture performance and aid decision making on farm. The tool will use satellite imagery to provide farm businesses with accurate, seasonal data on pasture biomass and carbon flow through regular bespoke updates. This and future workshops are designed to ensure that PASTORAL works simply and efficiently for farmers, answering the questions they have and seamlessly incorporating into management practices and other useful tools – which is why it will require extensive ground truthing by getting out on farm and collaborating with farmers.

Innovative Farmers is working with the partnership to draw on a wide range of knowledge from the sector and encourage farmers to sign up to be part of the development process. This workshop focused on understanding more about the ways in which farmers are currently using tools and techniques to support their decision making. From weekly walks around the farm taking plate meter readings, to software and apps, trusting gut instinct and the height of pasture up your welly, the group were all keen to maximise the potential to improve their livestock’s health and farm performance.

What data is useful for pasture management? 

The discussions also led to considering the wide range of data and information that would be useful for the tool to collect, process and analyse. This included:
- Variation of pasture performance in a field/across the farm
- Insights on key field points
- Ability to measure pasture on a gradient
- Diverse species and rough grazing e.g. moorland
- Location of nesting birds and other environmental features
- Rainfall and soil moisture content
- Consideration of different livestock breeds and times in the farming calendar such as tupping, silaging etc
- Quantity and quality of biomass including nutrient levels
- Analysis to inform when to spread manure, apply fertilisers etc
- Speed and accuracy
- Connecting with existing tools

The list went on and on…. Which is why the team from PASTORAL is keen to engage a cohort of farmers to help test and trial the tool during its development by stepping forward to be part of three field labs across the beef, lamb and dairy sector over the next 12-18 months.

How to get involved

If you are interested in finding out more about PASTORAL or would like to get involved to share what your farm business needs from a digital tool to help support decision making on-farm, then sign up to be part of this Innovate UK funded project led by Environment Systems in partnership with the University of Edinburgh and the Soil Association.

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