Sunday, January 25, 2009

The 22nd General Meeting of EGF, Uppsala, Sweden, June 2008

By Gordon Tiley

The 22nd General Meeting of the European Grassland Federation was held at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala in association with the Swedish Grassland Society and included an address by the King of Sweden - himself a keen farmer

The meeting was attended by more than 460 participants from 41 countries, with a programme of 60 oral and 300 post papers contained in 5 main sections:

  1. Biodiversity and productivity of grasslands - strategies and limitations.
  2. Grassland as part of the food chain.
  3. Efficient resource utilisation for sustainable conventional and organic grassland production.
  4. Can grassland-based production survive in Europe? Pathways for future success.
  5. The grassland landscape as a base for animal production - present, past and future.

There was a pre-conference tour to south west Sweden, a post-conference tour to the Arctic circle plus a choice of 6 mid-tours to nearby research farms and places of interest.

Sweden is a big country (174,000 sq miles, c. 6 times the area of Scotland) with a small population of 9 million, stretching from 55oN to 69oN and lying between Norway, the Baltic Sea and Finland. The coastline is very long and there are many lakes and forests. Most of the agricultural area (3 million ha) and centres of population lie in the southern third of the country. Cereals, leys and oilseeds and sugar beet are the main crops. Cattle number around 1.5 million, one fifth dairy, sheep 0.5 million, pigs 1.5 million.

Fertile plains in the south change further north to a fragmented landscape of exposed rocks among fields, hills and lakes. The north is hilly - mountainous with forests and large river valleys. Permanent fencing along the roadsides was to prevent the giant elk (moose) from straying into the road!

Impressions from the pre-conference tour in south west Sweden

Uppsala was the home of Carl Linnaeus and everywhere there was an awareness of a tradition of science and leaning which has extended forward to excellence in modern plant and animal breeding. Agricultural centres visited demonstrated well organised, well supported R & D, with well-developed liaison with farmers.

At Viken Genetics over 300 elite cows were being progeny tested, used for embryo production and in feeding trials in an ultra-modern facility to provide breeding material for home and overseas. The company was a commercial offshoot of a Swedish farming co-operative, Lantmännen, owned by 49,000 farmers. The plant breeding and seed group Svalöf Weibull (SW) is also 60% owned by the same co-operative. The University's Götala Beef and Sheep Research Station also carried out well-funded collaborative research.

Numbers of dairy units in Sweden had declined to around 7,000 but yields per cow were rising (average over 8,000 litres). Herd size was generally less than 100 cows. Organic production was up to 5%.

With long winters, emphasis was on silage production from short term leys, which frequently contained legumes, especially red clover. Emphasis was on high quality, around 11 ME.

The 2008 Swedish Grassland Silage winner farmed 195ha just south of the Arctic Circle, with 150 growing days above 5oC. 100ha were cut 3 times, the first cut in mid-June giving ME 11.2-11.6. The timothy - meadow fescue - red clover mixture lasts for 3 years. Milk yields 9,500 litres.


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