Meet the Scientist - Dr Debbie McConnell

Date published: 19 May 2017

Area of Expertise:

I have recently joined AFBI’s Agriculture Branch as a dairy research project leader. My main research focus is dairy grassland production.

Currently I am managing a number of very industry relevant research projects including research on optimising zero-grazing management systems and providing grass growth forecasts through the long running GrassCheck programme.

At present the dairy team are also in the process of building a Precision Grassland Platform at AFBI Hillsborough which will form part of our wider involvement in the UK AgriTech Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Livestock (CIEL). This platform aims to use new technologies to better understand and manage dairy cows in a grazing environment. Given how vital grassland agriculture is to our Northern Ireland  livestock systems, this is a project that I’m really looking forward to see develop in the next few years and one which will greatly advance NI’s status as an leading milk from grass industry.

Originally from a dairy, beef and sheep farm in west Tyrone, I completed my PhD in 2011 through AFBI and Queen’s University Belfast. Following this I moved to England to work as a Senior Dairy Scientist for the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, managing the Grassland, Forage and Soils research programme.

This year I am also undertaking a Nuffield scholarship, investigating the future role of precision technologies on dairy farms. As part of this I have spent time in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the USA visiting farmers, researchers and industry. Technology is changing our day to day lives and it’s important we make the most of this in our farming businesses as well.  Therefore, through my Nuffield Scholarship I am looking at how precision technologies can be adopted locally to ensure our future agricultural systems in Northern Ireland are more efficient and innovative.

Interesting facts about Dr Debbie McConnell:

If you weren’t in your current position what job/career would you like to be doing?

What are your hobbies?
Sport – a little bit of running and cycling. I also like to get down to the Mournes occasionally. Farming – spent some time on the family dairy farm.

What 3 things would you put on your bucket list?
All 3 revolve around travelling. Top of the list is a walking holiday in the Himalayas. I would also love to visit South America and see the Andes, and spend some time on a cattle ranch in the USA.

What unique fact do we not know about you?
Randomly I once played a game of Frisbee in front of the White House.

What is the most exciting thing you have ever done?
Climbing Mt Kenya and Mt Toubkal in Morocco were both fantastic experiences, if a little cold at the top. Jumping out of a plane is a close second, especially as I’m not great with heights.

Notes to editors: 

AFBI carries out high quality technology research and development, statutory, analytical, and diagnostic testing functions for DAERA and other Government departments, public bodies and commercial companies. 

AFBI's Vision is to use scientific excellence to advance the local and global agri-food sector.

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