Yorkshire farmer Sarah Pick was awarded a Nuffield Scholarship to study how to increase profits and productivity in beef herds in 2019.
Sarah, aged 29, who was brought up on a family farm in Tadcaster and lives on a dairy farm in Barnsley, was awarded the Nuffield Farming Scholarship funded by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society. Sarah was also being sponsored by the Worshipful Company of Butchers.
Sarah will research how to increase profitability within the suckler herd, particularly focusing on management of heifers.
The grant will see her travel to Scotland, America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand in 2019 to gain practical ideas on how calving at two years of age can be successfully implemented.
I am extremely passionate about suckler beef production and ensuring the sectors long term future. Profit margins are tight within the industry and with the potential loss of direct payments looming, it is important we understand what small changes can be made to drive up profitability.
Heifers are the lifeblood of a suckler business; they contribute to the new genetic makeup, cost structure and productivity of the herd. They are also a big investment and research has found this cost can be reduced by calving heifers at two years of age; however only around 35 per cent of English suckler producers carry out the practice.
The topic for Sarah’s Nuffield Scholarship is ‘Replacement heifer strategies for a productive and profitable suckler herd’.
My study has two aims: firstly, to understand how we can reduce the calving age of heifers to 24 months, and secondly how we ensure good quality replacement heifers are available to purchase.
Often suckler producers struggle to source heifers with high health status and good genetic potential which is having a detrimental impact on productivity. I want to investigate the systems that countries have in place to ensure this happens.
Sarah will travel to Scotland in June and Canada in September which will help her understand how producers manage heifers in particularly harsh climates to ensure they reach target weights to calve at two, which is something English producers struggle to achieve.
I want to find out what farmers are doing in other parts of the world and present the evidence back here in the UK so that we can follow that best practice.
I also want to visit the USA whose farmers are very technically efficient, they are currently researching new breeding technologies which we may be able to implement over here.
Sarah will head to Australia and New Zealand where cost of production is much lower.
In New Zealand, 65 per cent of suckler farmers calve at two years and they don’t have subsidies so I want to see how they have coped with that and the impact it has had on their businesses. I think they have become much more performance driven.
All the research will then be collated and Sarah will present the findings at the Nuffield conference and to farmer groups.
This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I can’t wait to get started! I work for the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB) as a Knowledge Exchange Manager where I regularly present on managing heifers and this will give me evidence to help better advise farmers.
Sarah was a part of Selby Young Farmers and her family have exhibited and won awards for their herd of pedigree Simmental cattle at the Great Yorkshire Show for many years.
As well as helping out at the family farm in Tadcaster, Sarah lives with her partner on a dairy farm in Barnsley where they have 150 dairy cows and farm 800 acres of mixed arable and grassland.
The family also exhibit at local shows as well as being members of the British Simmental Cattle Society.
Read Sarah Pick’s Nuffield Report
Sarah Pick’s Nuffield report was subsequently published in May 2020 and you can read her findings, in full, here.