SIR, – Following John Elliot’s Farmer’s View – 'UK farming scientists are playing catch-up', May 30 issue), there are a number of points which require clarification relating to the Beef Feed Efficiency Programme.

It is widely recognised that UK production systems, market conditions and genetic populations of cattle are different to those in the US so, for credible application here, it has been necessary to develop UK-derived selection tools. Using UK-derived parameters will increase the accuracy of selection for UK breeders.

It is with this background that the Beef Feed Efficiency Programme was developed, using the knowledge, expertise and equipment gained from North America, and other international collaborators, but applied in a UK commercial scenario.

The aims of Phase 1 of the programme were never to measure large proportions of the UK beef herd, but rather to measure enough of one breed to create robust parameters for establishing an estimated breeding value (EBV) for feed efficiency. Once this has been achieved, we can roll this out to other breeds, which is already happening with Aberdeen-Angus.

Other outcomes, as John has highlighted, were to establish UK industry protocols for measuring feed efficiency in a UK commercial setting, taking tissue samples for future genomic analysis – all of which are far from 'nebulous'.

Another outcome is measuring the reduction in GHG attributable to increasing feed efficiency, which has become almost more important than the significant feed savings which can be achieved when selecting animals using a selection index that includes feed efficiency.

A further outcome is to encourage and enable industry engagement. All breeds have the opportunity to engage and develop their selection index to include feed efficiency. The conversation about which entity should pay for this is difficult, and depends on working in partnership across the UK beef sector.

The number of Limousin progeny measured has been slightly more than 2000, (and Aberdeen Angus around 500) which is more than the target of 1800 required to estimate the parameters. The timeline to capture the required measurements has been significantly less than a decade. There was never any goal to replicate the vast trials of North America.

The outcomes of the BFEP will be as suitable to UK farmers’ requirements as any research that has been done in the last 20 years within the beef industry. The ability to actively select for feed efficiency, thus significantly reducing feed costs at producer level, and also reducing GHG emissions, is probably the most significant work done to specifically suit UK farmers and is an excellent example of levy-funded research working in partnership with government to benefit farmers directly.

Natalie Cormack

Beef Feed Efficiency Programme,