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Rural Innovation Support Service: “Getting the right people together”

15 June 2018

Since its February launch, the Rural Innovation Support Service (RISS) has been busy, with six working groups up and running, four more in the pipeline and many more ideas germinating.

New RISS groups are exploring how to improve the profitability of hill sheep farms, control liver fluke, manage hen pecking, set up a dairy labour pool and build a mobile abattoir.

With the recent closure of many abattoirs across Scotland – In Moray, Orkney and Dunblane this year alone – meat processing is becoming a big issue for many farmers, especially those in remote places or with specific needs, such as organic farmers. A RISS group, facilitated by Fergus Younger of SAOS, has formed around 15 concerned farmers and land managers who will be joined at their first meeting (on May 25) by a member of a successful Canadian mobile abattoir project.

At the end of May a group of eight farmers and two vets from Lockerbie are meeting for the first time to discuss alternative ways to control the devastating sheep disease liver fluke, as it becomes increasingly resistant to the main treatment. Facilitator Heather Stevenson, a vet from SAC Consulting, says: “We can carry on as normal, until other treatments start to fail – but there’s a risk farmers will have to give up sheep.” The group will discuss land management and husbandry options as a way to control the disease, which thrives in wet conditions.

Down in the Borders in early June a group of 14 hill sheep farmers from across Scotland and Northern Ireland will be meeting with three SRUC researchers and a veterinary clinician to discuss Better Hill Sheep Farms. Concerned with declining profitability overall the group is currently deciding what area to focus on: marketing (environmental or of genetic improvements), biosecurity or genetics. “In Scotland and Northern Ireland the ‘show sale’ environment doesn’t fit very well with sheep that are coming off grass,” says veteran Irish sheep and beef farmer and RISS group member Campbell Tweed. “There’s a lack of awareness about this, and also of the benefits of performance recording.” “I see a lot of progressive farmers who are on the ball,” says facilitator Poppy Frater of SAC. “If I can help get their ideas into an action plan, get their project funded or give them more projection then that’s a valuable service.”

Meanwhile, the first RISS group, Speeding Up Dairy Breeding has a new member: dairy geneticist Professor Mike Coffey of SRUC, who will be co-ordinating a breeding programme. “It became clear that these farmers were very committed to making very rapid genetic improvements and so were amenable to new techniques,” says Professor Coffey. “I’m not aware of anybody who’s already doing such a thing, and it represents a very good example of the way the national herd is likely to move in the future.”

For more information on how to get involved you can visit the RISS website or call Analy Hannah on 0131 666 2474.

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