It has been six years since the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) held a major open day for farmers at its Hillsborough site, so the events taking place next week under the heading ‘Farming for the Future’ don’t come around too often. On Tuesday, 18 June, the focus will be on dairy, with tours leaving every half hour from 10am to 2.30pm. The following day is targeted at beef and sheep, with tours every half hour from 1pm to 5.30pm. Each tour lasts about 1.5 hours. Visitors should park at Hillsborough Castle carpark, off the A1 dual carriageway, where a bus will operate to and from the venue.

Pre-registration is essential and can be done via the events section of the AFBI website (

The main topics covered include soil health, optimising the value of livestock slurry and also managing grassland – with a focus on what alternatives there are to help deal with volatile grass growth.

Various speakers will also look at dairy and beef genetics, calf health, animal nutrition and suckler cow fertility.

If possible, farmers should make every effort to attend.

At a basic level, it is important to take some time away from the farm, listen to the informed view of others and decide if that is applicable for your business. We also cannot ignore the environmental challenges we face, whether it is ammonia emissions, excess phosphorus getting into waterways or how we can reduce the carbon footprint of our production systems.

Research will help us identify practical solutions and often those solutions come in tandem with more profitable farming systems.

We are in an extremely fortunate position that government in NI still provides core funding for independent livestock research.

Compare that to Britain, where penal government cut-backs have forced many institutions to close down, or left them with no option but to work closely with commercial partners. Retaining that local, independent research base is vital for the future of NI farming.