Dr Steven Morrison
Head of Livestock Production Sciences Branch
AFBI

What project/s are you currently working on?
I am responsible for a large, expert team of researchers covering a broad research programme. Examples of research within my branch currently include:

  • Precision nutrition of young and adult livestock: cattle (dairy and beef) sheep, pigs and poultry;
  • Measuring and reducing methane and ammonia emissions;
  • Protecting and measuring animal health and welfare and early prediction of animal health;
  • Enhanced productivity within grassland systems and enhancing the sustainability of agrifood systems. 

One project I lead on with multiple stakeholders, a network of commercial farms, controlled studies and an international steering group is Optihouse. The project investigates the rearing environment for dairy calves, and how that environment can be optimised to deliver livestock productivity, health and welfare. Early microbiome development, metabolic efficiency determination through respiration chambers, a suite of behaviour monitoring technologies and genomic sequencing of environmental, animal and feed samples are all part of the project.   

This project will help update nutritional guidelines, deliver common fixes to typical housing designs, blueprints for new housing designs and standard operating procedures for calf hygiene management. As with much of the research here, the work spans from the fundamental through to the applied bringing in the synergistic expertise and capability across AFBI and from research partners.

What capability are you drawing on to deliver the research?
As with all research it is very much a team effort from the multidisciplinary skills, expertise and cutting-edge facilities within AFBI and partner research organisations locally and globally, to the critical insight, data, samples and access provided by the wider agri-food community. This connected approach helps ensure capability, robustness, and relevance and increases the likelihood of adoption and impact of the research findings.

There will always be a need for research relevant to the end user. Going forward the sharing of data, which is being generated in huge scale, in a variety of manners on research and commercial farms as well as through the supply chain will be a key challenge to overcome to help move forward in research and in commercial industry.

What would be your ideal research project, assuming no barriers!
So many ideas! One that springs to mind relates to youngstock.  Idea would be to launch a large-scale project linking research farms and commercial farms to look at factors such as nutrition, genetics, environment and health.  The study involving 10,000s of genotyped and well phenotyped animals would enable us to better understand the nutrition, genetics, health and environmental interactions; develop tools to optimise the nutrition programme and production pathway of individual animals and develop tech solutions to identify and predict ill health, nutritional or welfare concerns quickly and robustly.   Fingers crossed I can get this project going!

How did you arrive at doing what you do now?
My interest in agriculture started through my grandparents’ beef and sheep farm, where from an early age I worked during weekends and holidays. The research interest angle stemmed from also growing up on the AFBI Hillsborough research farm where my father was the former farm manager.

Having been surrounded by agriculture and science from childhood my career path was set, directing me through a degree in agriculture and a PhD in dairy cow nutrition. I have now worked in several scientist roles within AFBI for over 15 years and also worked for industry on a livestock genetics improvement project.  I have been fortunate to have been involved and lead a wide range of projects during my career to date from calf nutrition, immune system development, dairy cow nutrition and grazing through to projects relating to livestock housing, antimicrobial resistance, and the development of LCA and decision support tools for industry.

What do see as the three biggest questions facing our livestock industries in the next 5 years?
I think asking ourselves “What are our sustainability credentials?” – being able to verify & credit. As part an agrifood system we need to have robust & transparent systems and use these to help and try to direct the future provision of sustainable food.

This term sustainability will require a holistic approach and consider many elements spanning the multiple axis of sustainability such as carbon and ammonia emissions, soil health, livestock productivity, animal health and welfare measures that can be quantifiable, the balance between economic and environmental factors and the quality of life for farmers and supply chain partners.  The breadth and complexity of agrifood systems and key considerations such how food systems fit within a wider ecosystem, linkage with human health and well-being and how they deliver a wide range of ecosystem services adds to the challenge of understanding, measuring, and educating the wider public, but this is a challenge we must tackle.

Find out more at https://www.afbini.gov.uk/