Magnesium Network (MAG-NET): Integrating Soil-Crop-Animal Pathways to Improve Ruminant Health

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Biosciences

Abstract

Magnesium (Mg) plays an important role in many basic processes in living cells, and is therefore essential for animal health. Low Mg status (hypomagnesaemia) gives rise to conditions called tetany, or staggers, in ruminants like cattle and sheep. These conditions are remarkably widespread among ruminants in Europe, often with high fatality rates. Avoiding hypomagnesaemia is therefore important for animal welfare and farm business profitability. Typically the condition is managed by use of feed mixes or dietary supplements or by directly administering Mg to animals as a medicine. However, these approaches are costly and can be inefficient and ineffective. Another approach is to ensure that the grass grazed by animals in the field or eaten as hay or silage provides a good source of Mg. This approach is under-developed in UK agriculture, as is forage fertilizer management.

To develop these approaches requires three advances. First, we must understand the natural variation in the capacity of the soil to supply Mg, caused by differences across the country in the properties of the soil and the composition of the rocks from which they are derived. Second, we must understand how farmers currently use Mg in a range of enterprises as supplements, additives, fertilizers and veterinary interventions. Third, we must understand the mechanisms by which Mg is transferred from soil to plant to animal and how these can be exploited. For example, forage grass varieties that accumulate more Mg were selected by plant breeders in the 1970/80s. For example, a variety of Italian ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum 'Magnet/RVP2067') which accumulates more Mg was selected in UK breeding programmes. This variety performed consistently across sites and was shown to improve ruminant Mg status in feeding studies. However, this trait has not since been pursued in modern hybrid or perennial ryegrass varieties now favoured by the sector.

We aim to develop novel and resilient nutrient management strategies for Mg in the UK ruminant sectors. The primary nutritional focus of this project is Mg due to its strategic importance to the UK ruminant sector. However, new data, knowledge and management and communication tools arising from this project will apply to other nutrients/elements which are important for animal health. The project will therefore have wider potential to make animal production more efficient and resilient and will improve our wider understanding of landscape-scale processes.

This project will draw on a range of scientific disciplines including soil chemistry, geology, statistics economics and plant sciences. The four primary objectives are: (1) to use varied soil data to map the regions of England, N. Ireland and Wales where the soil supply of Mg is likely to be insufficient (2) to develop new understanding of Mg transfers on the farm and how these are managed, (3) to develop genetic markers and crop management strategies to increase leaf Mg concentration in modern forage grasses, and (4) to integrate these streams of knowledge and information into a decision tool that allows the farmer to improve forage nutrient management at farm scale and also help advisors or policy makers to examine management options at regional scale. The tool will take into account the economic impact of nutrient management scenarios based upon delivery via mineral supplements or improved grazing management via enhanced nutritional forage profiles given local and regional soil conditions.

Decision support will be delivered via a user-friendly web/smart-phone interface. User-defined inputs will include spatial data (soil characteristics, climate, etc.), choice of grass variety, fertiliser-management, supplement use, and economic costs. Outputs will enable the economic benefits of the various Mg nutrition options to be compared and communicated, at farm-to-regional scales.

Technical Summary

We aim to develop novel, resilient nutrient management strategies for the UK ruminant sector. The primary focus is magnesium (Mg) due to its strategic importance to the ruminant sector. However, new data, knowledge and communication tools arising from this project will apply to other nutrients/elements, to support more resilient production systems and to improve our wider understanding of landscape-scale processes. The primary objectives (deliverables) are:


1. Predictive maps of hypomagnesaemia-sensitive regions for England, N. Ireland and Wales. These will be developed from high-resolution public data on soil nutrient concentrations, geochemistry and land-use, and soil/crop data in large private-sector databases. Data will be integrated, and risks communicated, using geospatial modelling, and tested by on-farm audits.

2. Farm and veterinary audit of magnesium use, knowledge and opinion. Questionnaire surveys and detailed on-farm audits (soil, forage, fodder, animal biomarkers) will be used in areas of predicted high and low available Mg for dairy, beef and sheep sectors.

3. Novel genetic markers and crop management strategies to increase leaf Mg concentration in forage grasses. Genetic markers will be obtained from an Italian ryegrass cultivar (Magnet/Bb2067) with high leaf Mg concentration. A panel of modern hybrid and perennial ryegrass cultivars will be screened for the presence of these markers and new pre-breeding material will be developed. The response of Magnet/Bb2067 to Mg fertilisation will be tested in the field.

4. A multi-scale decision support tool for farm nutrient management. A web/smart-phone application will be developed. Inputs will include geospatial data (soil characteristics, climate, etc.), cultivar-choice, fertiliser-management, supplement use, and economic costs. Outputs will enable the economic benefits of nutrition management options to be compared and communicated, at farm-to-regional scales.

Planned Impact

Magnesium (Mg) is an essential element for livestock and Mg deficiency (hypomagnesaemia) causes economic losses to farm businesses. Improving our understanding of dietary flows of Mg and other elements through the soil-crop-animal pathway, at farm to regional scales, can potentially reduce these economic losses. It is widely recognised that 'nutritionally-informed' management strategies have great potential for UK dairy (worth £3.9b/yr) and sheep (worth £1b/yr) sectors. Thus, even marginal on-farm nutrient efficiency gains could deliver substantial economic and social impact. However, such strategies remain a significant and multidisciplinary challenge, requiring strategic R&D. Here, we aim to improve nutrient management efficiency within the UK agriculture sector using Mg as an exemplar element.

An integrated 'Pathways to Impact' plan is embedded within all Work Packages (WPs). The primary activity is direct and ongoing engagement with industry, including project partners (agronomy, fertiliser, veterinary sectors), farming representative bodies, and SARIC stakeholders. Subsidiary activities include academic interactions among soil, crop and livestock scientists, agricultural economists, and staff/student training.

Measurable immediate impact will be realised for partners and SARIC stakeholders by delivering: (1) integrated private- and public-sector soil and crop element-composition data for mapping/modelling (WP1); (2) on-farm audits developed with XLVets, representing 30% of UK farm animal practices, thereby enabling adequate survey participation and engagement by farmers (WP2); (3) marker-testing in germplasm owned by Germinal Seeds (WP3).

For impact to the wider sector, including policy makers, the effective communication of results is essential and a full WP (WP4) is devoted to communication activities. Thus, in WP4, a multi-scale decision support tool for nutrient management will be delivered via a user-friendly interface (web/smart-phone application).nputs will include geospatial data (soil characteristics, climate, etc.), cultivar-choice, fertiliser-management, supplement use, and economic costs. Outputs will enable the economic benefits of the nutritional options to be compared and communicated, at farm-to-regional scales. Delivering comprehensible, yet meaningful, results to the farming sector will draw on current best practice in risk communication. For example, Murray Lark and colleagues at British Geological Survey (BGS) recently developed a framework for managing and communicating risks of cobalt (Co) deficiency in Irish soils, applying verbal and numerical scales of uncertainty of likely outcomes to support farm-to-regional scale advice. Such an approach will be developed further in this project

New web-mapping services developed in this project will also be uploaded onto existing NERC/BBSRC/partner mapping platforms, such as the free app mySoil and the web-portal UK Soil Observatory, to improve data-legacy. In addition to map-based communication, impact will be pursued via activities including: (1) industry events (e.g. Grassland & Muck, May 2017); (2) corporate newsletters/publications; (3) industry training (e.g. XLVets hold regular training for improving farm-animal health management).

Impact is also expected from academic and training activities. Academic impact (e.g. via publications, talks etc.) will be enhanced by interactions with industry-scientists, which leverages specialist expertise, unique data (e.g. soil analyses), and physical resources (e.g. livestock bloods and urines, germplasm, soil samples) within this project. Impact via staff training will exploit tri-directional training opportunities between academic, research institute, and industry sectors. Impact via student training will encompass undergraduate, postgraduate and placement students.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description AgriScot trade event (16th November 2016) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Beth Penrose and Pete Bone attended AgriScot agricultural trade event, Edinburgh for MagNet. There they spoke with many farmers and managed to recruit more than 90 farmers to complete the WP2 at the event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2016
 
Description Beth Penrose blog on early activities in MAG-NET project 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Postdoc Beth Penrose has written a blog about her work as part of the MAG-NET project (Magnesium Network (MAG- NET): Integrating Soil-Crop-Animal Pathways to Improve Ruminant Health.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.magnesium-network.uk/media-centre.html
 
Description Beth Penrose blog on early activities in MAG-NET project B 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Beth Penrose blog on early activities in MAG-NET project B. http://britgeopeople.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/talking-magnesium-at-royal-welsh-showby.html
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://britgeopeople.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/talking-magnesium-at-royal-welsh-showby.html
 
Description British Grassland Soc., BSAS and BSSS joint Winter Meeting (1st March 2017) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Louise Ander, Pete Bone and Diriba Kumssa represented the MagNet project at the British Grassland Society, British Society of Animal Sciences (BSAS) and British Soil Science Society (BSSS) Winter Meeting - "Minerals. Closing the Circle - trace element supply in soils, plants and animals" (Great Malvern). Louise presented a farmer recruitment (Magnet WP2) poster and a talk outlining the project rationale and activities to date and Pete Bone gave a presentation based on wider aspects of his professional expertise.

This meeting was dominated by presentations and an audience drawn from fertiliser, ruminant health (including veterinary) and nutrition, seed/grassland/silage companies, as well as researcher attendees. The Agricultural Lime Association were in attendance and are keen to exchange information immediately, and to keep in touch with the project progress and outputs. Further contacts were made with those in the farming sector (and questionnaires given out), and previous contacts (from 20th Feb 2017) reinforced, including contacts for further KE as the project progresses.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description EPSRC meeting Plymouth (20th & 21st February 2017) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Louise Ander attended the EPSRC funded Making Livelihoods in the Tamar Valley and Dartmoor More Resilient to Water-Energy-Food Challenges: Stakeholder Workshop. This "WEFWEBS Dartmoor-Tamar-Plymouth workshop" was 20th and 21st February 2017. Whilst there were more than 10 participants in this workshop, it was dominated by small group working: however, this led to a better understanding of pressures on farmers in the stated region, and wider in south-west England. From the perspective of the MagNet project, this was an opportunity to initiate links that came to fruition in a meeting 1st March 2017. From the perspective of Private Water Supplies (PWS) project, it was an opportunity to draw attention to how water shortages and poor quality from PWS can have a detrimental effect in this rural area, as others.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Mag-Net website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Project website contains summary of funders and project, and since it's release the WP2 questionnaire for Mag-Net.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
URL http://www.magnesium-network.uk/
 
Description Martin Broadley interview with Farmers Guardian 26th December 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact SARIC research in the Farmers Guardian
Martin Broadley, Nottingham University recently featured in an article titled "Improve soil health for better forage" in the Farmers Guardian talking about his SARIC funded research project Mag-NET. https://www.fginsight.com/vip/vip/improve-soil-health-for-better-forage-17641
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.fginsight.com/vip/vip/improve-soil-health-for-better-forage-17641
 
Description PAAG meeting, Peterborough (14th May 2016) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Martin Broadley and Louise Ander attended a meeting of the Professional Agriculture Analysis Group (PAAG) at the Agriculture Industries Confederation (AIC) office in Peterborough. We provided a short presentation to ~15 attendees from the agronomy/fertiliser business, reflecting both SME and major companies. Discussion then developed as to possible wider data sharing with industry than was envisaged at the proposal stage of this project: at the time of writing this has advanced considerably to being close to data sharing under a new licence arrangement. Further, the network this has created with AIC has led to further interactions between AIC and BGS in particular, including in providing guidance for agricultural sector support, an important component of a further (successful) NERC grant application. AIC have since used the new link with BGS to access published data resources, which they were not previously using.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
 
Description Project partner and AHDB contribution to WP2 activities 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact AHDB Beef & Lamb (as one of the industry partners of SARIC) have fully engaged with the project: this has included distribution of WP2 questionnaires to farmers at events they have run (Beef Southwest, 9th Nov 2016) and NSA Central Region Early Gathering (26th Jan 2017). Further, project partners XLVets have distributed to >1500 vet. practices (24th October 2016 onwards) and Pete Bone has sent to further vet practices (29th September 2016 onwards) to distribute to their clients. AHDB
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
 
Description Royal Welsh Winter Fair (28th - 30th November 2016) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Beth Penrose visited the Royal Welsh Winter Fair, Builth Wells for MagNet. After conversation with attendees, more than 80 farmers completed the questionnaire at the event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Soil Security Programme meeting (15th February 2017) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Louise Ander attended the Soil Research Centre, University of Reading, Annual Workshop - part of NERC's Soil Security Programme activities. This event includes farmers, agronomy, regulator water industry and other consultant representatives in addition to research institute/university researchers. Of particular benefit to MagNet was the networking opportunities with farmers very engaged in soil science, one of whom offered a visit to discuss his farm to the MagNet project and discuss the particular challenges he faces in regard to adequate supply of Mg, and other essential elements for sheep health.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017