SRUC’s six research farms provide research, education and knowledge transfer resources linked primarily to the SRUC’s applied research programme.
Crichton Royal Farm
Critchton Royal Farm (Dumfries & Galloway) is the centre for dairy research and its main aim is to develop, implement and provide information from sustainable breeding and management systems for dairy cattle.
Crichton Royal Farm has an area of 252 hectares and rises from near sea level to about 75m. In addition to the Crichton Royal Farm, SRUC also rents some neighbouring land. The Acrehead Dairy Unit was built in 1979 and, in 2002, the Crichton Dairy Unit was upgraded when all the SRUC dairy research was consolidated at Dumfries.
The farm has always been at the forefront of innovation and two contrasting systems are being examined. The cows on each system are of either high (Select) or moderate (Control) genetic merit, giving effectively four herds across the two systems.
One system relies upon home-grown feeds, where the quality and yields of the crops are influenced by local weather conditions. Cows on this system are housed in winter and grazed in the spring, summer and autumn months. The other system is a by-products system, which relies on bought-in feeds that are by-products or co-products of crops primarily grown for human consumption (for example, straw from a wheat crop, or sugar beet pulp from sugar production). It is a landless system, as far as this farm is concerned. The quality of the feeds used in this system are not influenced by local conditions, but by national and global weather patterns and climate. Cows are continuously housed.
All the data collected from the systems experiment are stored on the central project database, where it can be accessed by many scientists and students. Information learned from the work is regularly imparted to groups of farmers, vets, interested industry parties and government stakeholders, as well as being published in academic journals and presented at conferences.
Kirkton and Auchtertyre Farms
The Hill & Mountain Research Centre, with its team of systems-scale researchers, is based at Kirkton and Auchtertyre Farms in the Scottish Highlands. The size (c. 2,200 ha), altitudinal range (from 170 m to over 1,000 m) and wide range of inbye grassland and other upland moorland and woodland habitats characteristic of hill farming and crofting make these farms unique within both SRUC’s portfolio of research, demonstration and teaching farm facilities.
The Scottish Government commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2045 will have a major impact on future agricultural and environmental support policies. In particular, there will be an even greater emphasis on encouraging hill farmers, crofters and other upland land managers to improve the cost-effectiveness of their production systems and thereby reduce emissions.
The range of production-oriented research that is being conducted at Kirkton and Auchtertyre – from improving soil and grassland management, through increasing livestock performance, to using sensors and other technology to aid decision-making - is all aimed at understanding what may be practical or economically viable to implement.
Making such changes to production systems will help in reducing emissions from any farm or croft. But the scale of the overall challenge means that only doing that will be nowhere near enough to help Scotland get to net zero by 2045. Hence other actions that are being carried out –such a woodland creation, peatland restoration and agri-environment management – will help ensure that hill farms and crofts also sequester even more carbon over the coming years.
Being seen to address both the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis will be essential if Scotland’s upland land managers are to trade on their green credentials going forward. Kirkton & Auchtertyre farms are uniquely placed – both now and into the future – to test, interpret and demonstrate how best to address the economic, social and/or environmental challenges facing such upland land uses in a future that will involve greater amount of economic and climatic shocks.