SCOTTISH RESEARCHERS are part of a new multi-million dollar research project investigating how to use precision farming methods to improve beef cattle production in the United States.

Researchers from Scotland’s Rural College Hill and Mountain Research Centre will work with colleagues at New Mexico State University to develop and deploy 'Internet of Things' hardware and associated technology – similar to that used at the SRUC's Kirkton and Auchtertyre farms in the Highlands – at the university’s experimental rangeland research farm, as well as on commercial ranches across the American Southwest.

The project has been awarded $9m in funding from the United States Department of Agriculture under its new Sustainable Agricultural Systems programme.

Head of the Hill and Mountain Research at SRUC, Davy McCracken, said: “The wet mountains of the Southern Highlands of Scotland are dramatically different in landscape and character to the arid rangelands of the south-western United States.

“But if you look closely at the livestock systems – primarily focused on sheep here and exclusively on beef there – the challenges they face are very similar. Both involve grazing livestock at low densities over large areas of relatively unproductive pastures, with a combination of poor nutrition, pests, diseases and predators impacting adversely on both productivity and growth rates during the lambing and calving seasons.

“Much of what we are focussing on at Kirkton and Auchtertyre – be it genetic improvement of livestock productivity; managing on-farm forage and fodder resources more effectively; using sensors to physically track livestock; or using Electronic Identification associated equipment to better track the performance of individual animals – is just as relevant in south-western USA.”

As part of the research project, the Hill and Mountain Research Centre will also host PhD students from New Mexico State University, who will compare the effectiveness of the technology in the two contrasting agricultural situations.

Mr McCracken added: “We will certainly be looking to use this opportunity to grow our research and education connections at New Mexico State University as well as elsewhere in the USA."