As an organisation with a strong commitment to delivering science to advance the agri-food industry in Northern Ireland and beyond, AFBI is constantly looking to the future and how science can help bring solutions to current and future challenges.

The restrictions on physical meetings brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the pace of adoption of digital technology and in line with this changed world that we all find ourselves now working in, AFBI has launched a series of online events (webinars) which will be broadcast in the coming months on topical issues for the future of farming and the environment in NI.

The first of the webinar series was on 4th June and focused on “Future opportunities to address air quality in NI”.  Dr John McIlroy outlined the importance of nitrogen in the agricultural system but also the key gases resulting from nitrogen losses and their known impact.  Whilst nitrous oxide is a highly potent greenhouse gas, the emissions of ammonia are of an equal, if not greater, concern in NI due to their impact on local sensitive and protected habitats.  John presented results from a number of modelled scenarios on the application of key mitigations and the resultant impact they are predicted to have on reducing ammonia emissions and on the ‘favourable’ status of sensitive habitats. 

Dr Dario Fornara outlined that whilst the UK government has set a legally binding target to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to “net-zero” by 2050 it will be challenging and will require carbon gain efficiencies within the agricultural sector to reduce its carbon footprint. However Dario presented data from a number of studies undertaken by AFBI examining the potential of soil under grassland and woodland to sequester carbon.

This was followed on 18th June with a webinar entitled “The importance of dairy production to 2030”. Two of AFBI’s leading dairy scientists, Dr Conrad Ferris and Dr Debbie McConnell, highlighted some of the key challenges and opportunities facing the dairy industry to 2030 and outlined examples of the dairy research that is underway within AFBI. Key challenges that were highlighted for the dairy industry included reducing its environmental impact in a holistic manner, addressing antimicrobial resistance, optimising grass production, silage quality and milk solids content, as well as the expected impact of climate change on future grassland productivity in NI.

We are delighted with the response that there has been to the webinars held to date with over 150 stakeholders participating on each occasion and many more viewing the recordings when they were subsequently uploaded to the internet.

The third AFBI outlook webinar in this series will be held on 2nd July at 10am. This webinar will focus on ‘Safeguarding NI’s Natural Capita from Invasive Alien Species’. Invasive Alien Species are defined as problematic non-native species that invade a new region. AFBI’s leading scientists in the areas of plant health and entomology, Dr Colin Fleming and Dr Archie Murchie will highlight the key threats these pose to Northern Ireland’s plant based sectors and some key mitigations that are in place to minimise their impact. Anyone wishing to participate should register from HERE.

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