The Research Excellence Framework (REF) process is the UK’s system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions and its impact in society.

SRUC presented a joint submission to REF 2021 with the University of Edinburgh’s The Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies and Roslin Institute, including these impact case studies. The results of this submission were published in May 2022.

Using data to maximise animal breeding potential

SRUC researchers discovered that routinely collected animal data from abattoirs, surveys and individual animals provides a valuable resource for enhancing genetic improvement programmes.

Our team developed new algorithms and data systems, which were used to analyse new cattle traits in a larger, better-powered dataset. This generated more reliable predictions of offspring traits to aid selection of animals for breeding.

Our research has led to improved efficiency of UK beef and dairy production, bringing significant economic benefits. A model, based on data collected by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) and previously published methodology, estimated that the benefit of being able to select for additional traits is worth between £60 million and £80 million per year for the dairy industry and £24 million for the beef industry.

You can read the research outputs from the case study on our Pure portal.

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Barley disease management research yielding results

Barley is the most widely grown crop in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, and the second most common in the UK. Diseases of barley crops are managed through annual application of fungicides to kill parasitic fungi and their spores.

Incorrect timing and the use of ineffective products can adversely affect yield and contribute to pathogens (bacteria, viruses, or other microorganisms that can cause disease) developing resistance to fungicides.

In the UK, the economic impact depends chiefly on the right selection of fungicide product; in Ireland on correct timing of its application.

The use of optimal fungicide programmes results in improvements to barley yields that have been assessed to be worth up to an additional £113 million and €18 million annually to the UK and Irish barley industries respectively.

You can read the research outputs from the case study on our Pure portal.

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Refined greenhouse gas reporting refocuses policy on emissions from agriculture

SRUC researchers developed an interdisciplinary research programme, looking at UK-specific climatic, geographical and farming practices to improve the accuracy of greenhouse gas (GHG) reporting and help deliver policies for future low-carbon farming systems.

Our work has shown that soil-derived emissions of nitrous oxide (N2O) are lower than previously calculated, but estimates for methane (CH4) emissions remain unchanged. CH4 has been shown to account for a greater proportion of overall agricultural GHG emissions in the UK than previously thought.

Our research results informed Scotland’s Climate Change Plan, which sets out the planned policies to achieve the climate targets, and influenced policies on nutrient management, soil testing, livestock management and precision farming. Internationally, our research has fed into the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's GHG reporting guidelines and has been adopted by international reporting of GHG emissions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

You can read the research outputs from the case study on our Pure portal.

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Measuring an animal’s emotional expressivity from its body language

Our researchers at SRUC challenged conventional assumptions among scientists that an animal’s capability to experience emotions can only be measured indirectly through analysis of physical behaviours, often with an emphasis on negative behaviours such as biting and other stress responses.

We developed a method called Qualitative Behaviour Assessment (QBA) as part of an ongoing animal welfare research programme funded by the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Scottish Government.

A particular strength of QBA is its capacity to include the positive aspects of welfare, the animal's ‘happiness’. Elevated heart rate, for example, is an important stress indicator but could equally likely be a positive sign of joyful anticipation or exuberant play. QBA weighs up the various negative and positive aspects of an animal’s expressivity to give insight into more subtle, balanced assessments of its mood.

You can read the research outputs from the case study on our Pure portal.

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Improving preparedness for foot and mouth disease in Scotland

During the UK's foot and mouth disease (FMD) outbreak in 2001, an estimated £3 billion was lost through the collapse of rural economies and tourism. Preparedness for future outbreaks is predicted to lead to substantial reductions in economic losses if the countryside can remain open for low-risk activities.

As part of a research consortium looking at FMD contingency planning, SRUC researchers developed a series of veterinary risk assessments to refine outbreak preparedness anywhere.

The Scottish Government’s Animal Health and Welfare Division (AHWD) used this evidence as base for a change in rural access policy, so that the countryside could remain open for business, with limited restrictions. This policy change also saw a legislative amendment to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act (modified in Dec 2013).

You can read the research outputs from the case study on our Pure portal.

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