The Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) and leading international grass breeding company Barenbrug Holding BV (Barenbrug), based in the Netherlands, have enjoyed a strong commercial partnership over the past number of years.
This partnership, under which Barenbrug have the world marketing rights for all AFBI-bred varieties, has delivered a steady stream of high quality and high performing AFBI-bred varieties for the Northern Ireland and wider UK grass-based farming industry.
Northern Ireland’s cool, moist climate enables high grass yields and long grazing seasons and grass is therefore a key driver of competitive livestock production. Consequently, locally bred grass varieties that are adapted to Northern Ireland soils, weather conditions and plant diseases provide an important competitive edge for local producers.
The AFBI-Barenbrug partnership has produced over 40 new grass varieties which have been added to Recommended Lists across the UK – and the success of the breeding programme has been recognised internationally. For example, AFBI-bred varieties have topped the league table in the UK, with 10 new perennial ryegrass recommended varieties featuring in the UK National List over the past 4 years. All AFBI bred varieties are commercially marketed by Barenbrug, and AFBI-Barenbrug varieties are now used in over 70% of seeds mixtures sold in Northern Ireland, with several leading seed distributors relying entirely upon AFBI bred grasses. AFBI-Barenbrug varieties are also widely used in England, Wales, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland and one variety, Dromara, has topped the list in the Netherlands.
The strategic component of the AFBI grass breeding programme is funded by DAERA, but a significant feature of the partnership arrangement is the contribution of grass variety germplasm and other specialist technical support from Barenbrug, through its worldwide network of breeding stations.
AFBI and Barenbrug recently signed a five year extension to the current partnership arrangement, during a visit by senior AFBI staff to Barenbrug Headquarters in Nijmegen in the Netherlands. As the AFBI–Barenbrug partnership continues, Dr Gillian Young will take up the role of AFBI’s Head of Grass Breeding, following the recent retirement of David Johnston, who has had a long and highly distinguished career as leader of the grass breeding programme at Loughgall for 39 years.
Speaking at the contract signing, Dr Sinclair Mayne (AFBI Chief Executive) commented ‘We have had a very successful commercial partnership agreement with Barenbrug for a number of years and I am pleased the relationship will continue for a further five years. David Johnston’s contribution to grass breeding internationally has been outstanding and this has been a key contributor to the success of the programme. I am confident that the commercial partnership will continue to make good progress in developing the next generation of new AFBI Loughgall bred varieties under Dr Gillian Young, as David’s successor.’
On behalf of Barenbrug, Mr Bastiaan Barenbrug - CEO of the Royal Barenbrug Group - stated that “grass breeding involves a long-term commitment. It is fantastic to see that AFBI and Barenbrug have been working together for such a long time, driven by the same values and understanding of the market. The partnership resulted in the release of many top varieties for the Northern Ireland and UK markets, bred by David Johnston, who has recently retired. We want to thank David for the great work he has done and at the same time we wish David’s successor, Dr Gillian Young, good luck in this role. We are very pleased the partnership continues and we look forward to the release of great new varieties to continuously support farmers in running their operations”.
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