NEW funding to "drive forward innovation" and help food and farming businesses shift to a low carbon economy has been announced by the Scottish Government – with the headline project focusing on keeping dairy calves with their mothers for longer.

Delivered through the Knowledge Transfer and Innovation Fund, the £340,000 of investment was announced this week by Rural Affairs Minister Mairi Gougeon.

“As we face a global climate emergency, investing and supporting innovative research within our agricultural sector has never been more important," said Ms Gougeon. "Farming is sometimes singled out as a climate offender, often by those who do not fully understand or appreciate its importance to our rural communities, or the work our farmers do to protect our environment.

“With this latest funding the Knowledge Transfer and Innovation Fund has now invested around £5.7 million in projects that will help us continue to grow a sustainable, vibrant and innovative rural economy.”

At Rainton Farm in Castle Douglas, Dumfries and Galloway, David and Wilma Finlay keep their dairy cows with their calves for five months, in contrast to standard dairy farm practice which separates them within 24 hours of birth. The funded project aims to use the Finlay's ‘ethical dairy’ as a model of the cow with calf system and on-farm rearing, and extend this to other farmers.

Colleen McCulloch of Soil Association Scotland, which helped set up the Rural Innovation Support Service group that brought the ‘cow with calf’ project together, said: “David and Wilma Finlay are at the forefront in Europe of turning this high welfare dairy system into a successful, commercial operation.

"Keeping calves with their mother has benefits beyond welfare, for example for rose veal and beef supply, as well as grassland management and biodiversity, but is commercially challenging. The KTIF funding will allow Dr Marie Haskell of Scotland’s Rural College to run a year’s pilot project to track the progress of the Finlays’ operation and trial it on several other farms, with the aim of establishing a blueprint that could be adopted by any interested farm.”

Other projects covered by the new money include work on pleurisy reduction in Scottish pigs, under the auspices of Wholesome Pigs, which has received £47,000 to further understanding of the environmental, health and management conditions that impact on the incidence and severity of pleurisy, and to share experiences with the entire Scottish pig sector.

SRUC's Grass Roots project is to receive £53,000 to help 'close the gap' between farmers and grass breeders, in the hope that this will better inform and drive innovation in the variety and seed mixes sector, and in the management systems the farmers deploy. This project expects to target 2000 farmers and link them in a virtual group so that peer-to-peer experiences can be shared, and data on preferences and performance gathered.

A group which is developing a reliable system of organic canola production in Scotland will receive £30,000, to help demonstrate the viability of growing the crop under Scottish conditions and open up a new potentially lucrative source of income and provide alternative, locally produced livestock feed or feed supplement, as well as the potential for supplying even more valuable human markets.

The Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society's Digital Farms project will receive £55,000 for its work on low power, wireless communication that will allow whole farms to be digitally connected, offering businesses a simple, low cost way to collect data. SmartRural, SNH and RSABI are also involved.

Quality Meat Scotland's Scotch Beef Protected Geographical Indication Traceability and Performance project has been allocated £94,800 to prove several concepts around the use of DNA analysis for meat traceability and integrity and cattle performance development. The wide reach of this project offers to deliver value for money, potential return on investment and securing the confidence of the consumer and the farmer by providing full DNA traceability to the Scotch beef brand.

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