BovINE (Beef Innovation Network Europe) is a EU-funded project aiming to improve the technical, economic and environmental sustainability of beef farms across Europe. It does this by identifying the current challenges European beef farmers are facing in becoming more sustainable and finding solutions to these challenges by collecting good practices from other European beef farms and practical research innovations not yet applied on beef farms.

How will BovINE do this?

The objective of the project is to create knowledge exchange networks in nine EU member states, consisting of beef farmers, farming organisations, advisers, researchers and other stakeholders. These are connected across Europe by the overall project coordinator, Teagasc. All nine countries have a network manager to coordinate stakeholders from the beef supply chain within that country. Their aim is to identify both the challenges their beef farmers are facing and any potential solutions they might have to address the needs of the other eight countries in the project.

The project has also created a number of working groups which will focus on finding research-related solutions in one of the four areas of sustainability; socio-economic resilience, animal health and welfare, production efficiency and meat quality and environmental sustainability.

Who is involved?

There are nine EU countries in the project; Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal and Spain, which represent 75% of the suckler cow population in Europe. The Irish partners are Teahasc and the IFA.

Bovine conference 2021

Each year, the project network managers bring farmers from all nine countries together for a brain storming session to get a picture of the current challenges they are facing. This year’s conference, which took place online, was opened by IFA president Tim Cullinan, where he outlined the challenges that exist within beef production, but also the opportunities that exist in the sector, saying that 2021 has been “a positive year in terms of finished cattle prices, mart prices and we have seen some really solid consumer sentiment towards beef purchases.

“We cannot underestimate the effect that reduced South American beef imports are having on the European beef market and that’s why we are fighting against any Mercusor trade deal being ratified. It’s ridiculous to think that Europe is pursuing a green food policy on one hand while on the other is comfortable with importing beef from feedlots in Brazil,” Cullinan said.

“We know how important support payments are to the drystock sector and it’s absolutely vital that this level of support continues, to ensure that beef farms survive. The rollover of BDGP in 2022 and the introduction of the suckler carbon efficiency programme in 2023 are both very important parts of this support. Ireland is the fifth most carbon efficient country in the EU in terms of beef production and we must capitalise on this.

“Our grass-based system means that Ireland has one of the most sustainable production systems in the world. Because of this, we need to look on Irish farmers as being part of the solution to global climate change and not part of the problem.”

Dr Helen Sheridan from UCD outlined some research on multispecies swards currently being undertaken at the university’s research farm at Lyons Estate in Kildare. She defined multispecies swards as “improved grassland sown with a selective selection of species, for example chicory, plantain, red clover and white clover.”

She stated that the trial is in its early stages, however, so far the results have been encouraging. Cattle grazed on multispecies swards have achieved a 20% higher growth rate with similar results reported in grazing sheep.

Dry matter yield has also been higher in multispecies swards with lower nitrogen input. Offaly farmer Kieran Dooley outlined to the group how a procurement protocol and vaccination programme has helped him reduce animal disease on his farm and increase performance in his young bull finishing system.

Tom O’Dwyer, manager of the new Teagasc Signpost programme, outlined how the new programme and campaign around reducing GHG emissions on Irish farms will work. Teagasc will work with 120 demonstration farms over the next number of years to highlight the practices which will support agriculture in achieving the 2030 climate change targets.

Finally, Mick O’Dowd from Kepak gave an update on the Kepak/Glanbia Twenty20 closed loop calf-to-beef programme. He highlighted the advantages of the production model and said that numbers were on track to have over 20,000 head of 2020-born animals slaughtered as part of the programme.

The conference broke out into four separate groups to identify areas for 2022 research under the following headings:

  • Environmental sustainability: Topics discussed included looking at alternative protein sources to imported soya bean meal, the effects of low sugar grasses on methane emissions from grazing cattle and how to highlight Ireland’s sustainable system of beef production to the general public.
  • Socio-Economic resilience: There was some real concern around continued supports to drystock farms and what the current round of CAP changes will mean for beef farmers. Questions were asked about how this loss of income will be made up and a discussion was also had about the benefits of factory contracts and how to get a fairer distribution of the price along the supply chain.
  • Animal health and welfare: A discussion was had on the need for independent research on the role of vaccines on beef farms. Farmers also requested more information to better understand faecal sampling results. A discussion also took place around the idea of a HealthCheck score card for dairy calves on calf health, mortality, AI use etc, that could be used by beef farmers when purchasing dairy calves.
  • Production efficiency and meat quality: A lot of discussion took place around research on feed additives and the role that they could play in reducing methane emissions. A particular point was made that a drinking water additive for grazing cattle was needed. Questions were asked around the Stabiliser breed and whether there was any Irish research on Stabiliser cattle on Irish farms.
  • Questions were also asked around the calibration of grading machines and the differences between fat scores of grass-fed cattle versus shed-fed cattle.

    A number of these topics will now be selected for further investigation in 2022 and report back to farmers involved in the project.

    Next Bovine webinar

    The next Bovine project webinar takes place on Monday 22 November at 5pm. The title of the webinar is Tools to measure and communicate high animal welfare standards on beef farms.

    Frank Zerbe, a German vet and leader of the BovINE Animal Health and Welfare thematic working group, will be joined by European experts Kornel Cimer, Beatrice Mounaix and George Stilwell, to look at ways in which beef farms can communicate the high animal welfare standards that are practiced on beef farms to the general public.

    If you are a beef farmer, adviser, veterinarian or any other stakeholder in the Irish beef supply chain, you can get involved by becoming a member of the Irish BovINE network. To join the network, contact or