NEIKER participates in a new European project aimed at increasing productivity in the sheep sector


The Basque Agricultural Research and Development Institute, NEIKER-Tecnalia, participates with eight European centers in the SheepNet innovation network, which aims to increase the productivity of the sheep sector through the exchange of knowledge between researchers and producers throughout Europe.

The production of sheep meat and milk is a very important cattle activity in Europe and neighboring countries such as Turkey. In Europe there are 85 million animals in the 830,000 farms, while in Turkey, an associated country, has 31 million animals in 127,000 livestock farms. Spain contributes with 16.5 million sheep distributed in 116,000 herds, of which 260,000 heads correspond to about 5,500 farms in the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country.

However, the contribution of the sheep sector to society goes beyond mere provision of food, and its true impact can not be assessed solely from censuses or in economic terms. In fact, it has left evident traces in our cultural patrimony, and especially in the gastronomic one with food of differentiated quality and recognized prestige, as for example the cheese of  Idiazabal label. In addition, it contributes to land management, landscape maintenance, and fire prevention, largely in areas of special interest and high natural value.

However, since 2000, the number of producers in the EU has decreased by 50%, which poses a significant risk to the sustainable development of areas considered generally less favored.

The sustainable increase in the number of lambs raised by sheep and the increase in the number of milking sheep, and thus the quantity of milk produced, is essential to reinforce the attractiveness of the sheep sector. The SheepNet network, financed with 1.99 million euros by the Horizon 2020 program of the European Union, it´s aimed to increase productivity in the sector. The initiative, whose first meeting took place at the Teagasc Research Center in Athenry, Ireland, will run until October 2019.

SheepNet is a network on practice-oriented innovation to improve the productivity of the sector, through collaborative work. It will facilitate the exchange of scientific and practical knowledge among European researchers, technicians and producers. Research centers from the six main producing countries of the European Union – Spain, United Kingdom, Romania, Italy, France and Ireland – and Turkey participate.