Sarah Byford reviews year as BGS president

Sarah Byford reviews year as BGS president

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


When I became President on Dutch soil just under twelve months ago, the pride I felt was tinged with a degree of apprehension at the responsibilities which lay ahead.  I needn't have worried.  The entrepreneurial skills,  enthusiasm and efficiency of our director Jess, aided by Rachael in her role of project co-ordinator and  backed by committed council members,  provided all the ingredients needed for a successful and progressive year. 

 The Summer meeting in Holland was notable as being the first held outside the UK and Eire, and also for the high percentage of young delegates - I continue to urge local grassland societies to encourage younger members - only then will the future of both local societies and BGS be assured.  With this in mind   BGS and NFYFC have joined forces in promoting ' The Grassland Challenge' an initiative aimed at bringing members of local grassland societies and young farmers together- two such meetings have taken place to date, one in Scotland and one in Monmouthshire, and I sincerely hope that other local societies will follow suit in the coming year. 

At the Dairy Event in September, our focus was on the importance of selecting the right seed mixtures, promoting the Herbage Variety Guide and testing scheme. 'Use it or lose it ' has continued to be our message  throughout the year, and thanks to funding secured from Dairy Co and EBLEX the scheme is safe for a least the next three years.   

The Dairy event also featured the presentation of awards for the BGS National Grassland Management Competition, sponsored by GrowHow and DLF Trifolium - Richard Ratcliffe as lead judge announced the results - Emyr Jones and Sons representing Meironydd GS becoming the fourth Welsh winners in seven years!  It is good to see Emyr here at the Summer Meeting - Croeso! 

In October I was pleased to be joined by Jess and a number of local society members at the FWGS AGM which was held in conjunction with a very successful Farming Connect Organic Producer conference at Builth Wells 

 In November Beating the Fertiliser Price Rises was the subject of Charlie Morgan's dynamic presentation delivered at Harper Adams, and Monmouth, attracting over 90 local grassland members. These meetings were subsidised by BGS as part of our initiative to work more closely with local societies. A review of the responsibilities of regional representatives on council has been carried out during the year as we strive to increase the effectiveness of this important link. 

Sadly the year saw the passing of two notable former BGS members Graham Copeman and Gordon Newman, both outstanding ambassadors for grass and forage, and in January this year, many members including a number of past presidents attended a memorial service held for Gordon in the chapel at the Royal College, Cirencester. 

Towards the end of January, UGS, celebrating their 50th year, kindly invited me to represent you at their anniversary conference, the theme for which was farming in the Global Market and in March I returned to Belfast to join many past presidents and founder members of UGS at a celebration dinner at Stormont- a truly memorable occasion. 

In March and April we organised another round of spring farm walks - this year reduced to three, but still attracting nearly 500 people, some of whom had travelled considerable distance. These visits, jointly run with RABDF and Dairy Co, were intended to be the last, thinking that after three successful years we had maybe milked the theme of Milking Grass for profit dry, , but following the very positive feedback from delegates we plan to organise more visits next year. Once again we are indebted to the sponsors, whose support allows us to offer members this worthwhile experience free of charge. 

Also in April the Special Interest Horse Group, led by our project co-ordinator Rachael, staged a one day workshop 'Catering for Horses today '- the equine world is without doubt a growth industry and efficient utilization of grass by horses is definitely a neglected topic, and this conference addressed this with five excellent speakers followed by two superb visits where delegates were treated to the all too rare sight of well managed grassland and horses occupying the same space! 

At Grassland UK in May, this year organised by the Bath and west Show Society at Shepton Mallet we shared a stand with Dairy Co and with them organised a programme of well attended seminars which covered topics to help farmers improve profits from grazing, silage and manure management, and also offered advice for those in Nitrate Vulnerable Zones This was closely followed by Beef Expo at Malvern, where we had a presence on the EBLEX stand, promoting joint projects. 

The Forage and Legume meeting held at IBERS earlier this month attracted some 45 delegates to a meeting combining excellent technical papers and with visits to the clover and mixed species breeding programmes. 

The Research and Development committee are to be congratulated for the production of the R&D priorities 2009-2012 document - with the continued reduction of research funding; the allocation of what little money is available is paramount. The wide circulation of the document through our network has resulted in a clamp full of very positive feedback from all interested parties to quote David Long from Barenburg 'it is an impressive piece of work and crystallises all the concepts that we should be working towards ' 

 Finances - BGS of course has not been in any way immune from the credit crunch, but despite the unrealised loss on investments during the year, the Society moves into 2009 well able to cope with the current global financial downturn, and is in a position to invest in new projects for long term growth., thanks to the excellent financial management by Jess and Tony, together with reduced reliance on investment income. 

One such project is  the newly launched BGS Grazing Partners - earlier  in the year Sara Gregson brought to Council the idea of mentorship which had gripped her imagination during her Nuffield scholarship travel and with council approval, the idea was presented to potential stake holders. .  Thanks to support which has been forthcoming from EBLEX, Dairy Co, the National Trust, together with BGS supported by VTS funding, nine farmers, all successful and experienced grazing managers, fresh from a recent training in mentoring skills are ready to share their knowledge and expertise with fellow grazers. Requests for mentoring are already coming in and three partnerships have been already established - yes, the scheme in truly up and running!  We are confident that this scheme will grow and each year we will widen the net until we have mentors and mentored farmers all over the UK.  If you know of anyone who would benefit from the support of a grazing partner, please talk to Sara. 

 Another valuable investment of funds has been in the updating of our website, which has been improved beyond recognition -it has received in excess of 1400 visitors in the first month. and feedback to date has been excellent. 

Another major initiative, namely   the Nutrient Wise Grassland Demonstrations, are going ahead, and Jess will be updating you on detail and progress in her report. 

Grass and Forage Science continues to flourish, and has brought in additional income during the year. We are indebted to Richard Ratcliffe for his continued summarising of UK relevant articles, making vital information accessible to farmer members in an easily digested form. 

Grass and Forage Farmer gets better and better, and the last issue achieved no less than 24 pages featuring a wide range of articles and reports, - the feed back from members is extremely positive, and Jess and all those who have contributed their experiences and expertise must be both thanked and congratulated - any local society members not in receipt of this magazine are losing out, and should make sure their society remedies this. 

On the membership front, Jess is to be congratulated for recruiting no less than eight corporate members during the year, namely British seed Houses, Dow Agro sciences, DLF Trifolium, GrowHowUk  Limagrain and DairyCo, the Silage Advisory Centre and Genus. 

 Before I close, I have great pleasure in announcing this year's joint winners of the BGS Innovation Award - namely Dr John Vipond from SAC and Mr Marcus Maxwell, for their Development and Promotion of forage aspects of Easycare sheep systems. The award will be presented at the Dairy and Livestock show in Sepetmber. 

I conclude by offering sincere and heartfelt thanks to Jess and Rachael for all their hard work, to my partners in crime on the presidential team, Richard and Dave for their unfailing support and encouragement, to our honorary treasurer Tony and all on council, and last but not least, you, the members - with a special thank you to Monmouthshire members for the support they have given me during the year. 

It has indeed been a privilege to be your President, and as I pass over the reins to my worthy successor, I assure you all of my continued support for BGS and all it represents. 


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