Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) announced that it is taking part in a new multimillion-dollar research project investigating how to improve beef cattle production in the U.S. using precision farming methods.
The project, led by New Mexico State University (NMSU), has been awarded $9 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture under its new Sustainable Agricultural Systems program.
Researchers from SRUC’s Hill & Mountain Research Center in the Scottish Highlands will work with colleagues in New Mexico to develop and deploy "Internet of Things" (IoT) hardware and associated technology at NMSU’s experimental rangeland research farm as well as at commercial ranches across the southwestern U.S., the SRUC announcement said.
Using a low-power radio network to send information from sensors placed around the farms and on livestock, the IoT technology allows researchers to track the location of grazing animals and collect information on environmental variables such as soil temperature, soil moisture content and water levels in burns and streams, SRUC said.
“The wet mountains of the southern Highlands of Scotland are dramatically different in landscape and character to the arid rangelands of the southwestern U.S.," Davy McCracken, head of the Hill & Mountain Research Center, said. “From a livestock manager’s perspective, you may think that these two areas have only one issue in common: how best to manage water, with too much water -- in the form of rain -- impacting livestock here and too little water -- in the form of dependable watering points -- affecting livestock in that part of the U.S.
However, McCracken added, “if you look closely at the livestock systems -- primarily focused on sheep here and exclusively on beef there -- the challenges they face are very similar. Both involve grazing livestock at low densities over large areas of relatively unproductive pastures, with a combination of poor nutrition, pests, diseases and predators [adversely affecting] both productivity and growth rates during the lambing and calving seasons."
At the Kirkton and Auchtertyre SRUC research farms, which are part of the Hill & Mountain Research Center, much of the focus -- "be it genetic improvement of livestock productivity, managing on-farm forage and fodder resources more effectively, using sensors to physically track livestock or using electronic identification (EID) associated equipment to better track the performance of individual animals -- is just as relevant in southwestern U.S.,” he explained.
As part of the research project, the Hill & Mountain Research Center will host NMSU doctoral students, who will compare the effectiveness of the IoT technology in the two contrasting agricultural situations.
SRUC said the long-term goals of the project are to increase profitability and productivity on ranches in the arid regions of the U.S. Southwest, reduce cattle production losses due to weather and climate impacts and improve water and nutrient use efficiency on these ranches and associated beef finishing systems in the Ogallala Aquifer region.
SRUC’s involvement in the project came about after NMSU rangeland science professor Andres Cibils visited Kirkton and Auchtertyre while he was in Scotland to attend an animal welfare conference three years ago.
Davy said, “We will certainly be looking to use this opportunity to grow our research and education connections at New Mexico State University as well as elsewhere in the U.S.”