Jan Crichton Travel Bursary Report

Jan Crichton Travel Bursary Report

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

By Mair Morgan, ADAS

Thanks to the support of the British Grassland Societies 'Jan Crichton Travel Bursary' fund I travelled to the 22nd European Grassland Federation general meeting held in Uppsala, Sweden in June 2008. The theme of the meeting was Biodiversity and Animal Feed - Future challenges for grassland production. This provided the opportunity to see what research is being carried out across Europe and further afield.

Day 1 We were honoured to have an opening address from King Carl and the Swedish Minister of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries. It was encouraging to hear the Swedish minister's cry for more agricultural research to secure the knowledge for the future. King Carl quoted some interesting facts such as the short growing season in the North of Sweden is only 120 days, this is doubled for the South. He also quoted that there is a responsibility for everyone to respect the environment and there is a need to combine profitable and sustainable agriculture to obtain an ecological and sustainable environment.

Invited papers Emanuelsson U. (Sweden) gave us an insight into the distribution, conservation work and attitude towards SNG in Europe. Some countries still do not appreciate these areas and some SNG's are being lost due to neglect and subsequently trees are invading. This is particularly the case in the Mediterranean.    Peeters A (Belgium) discussed the challenges for grasslands, grassland-based systems and their production potential in Europe. He described the current situation and the recent trends in intensification, restructuring, specialisation and competition for land. The main challenges are the demands for cereals and other agricultural products on the world market such as AGRO fuels. The other challenge is the availability of technology. Cederberg C. and Sennerby Forsse L. (Sweden) examined Global, regional and local perspectives on land use in feed production. With increasing land competition the livestock sector could drop below the current 30% of the global land area. Grassland at 80m ha is the dominant land use in Europe. It is predicted that global meat consumption will double between 2000 and 2050. It is also predicted that agricultural land could drop 50% in Sub Sahara and 30% in Asia. This showed a need for research on how to best use the land resource. They described the issues of increasing CO2 and how 18% of the global GHG emissions is from livestock production and the need to reduce this.

Plenary sessions Biodiversity and productivity in grasslands - strategies and limitations discussed diversity issues and how we can improve diversity. Wissman J. (Sweden) looked at Primula veris L. as an example of flaura and fauna and concluded that low-intensity and site specific grazing regimes have to be included in the management of SNGs to maintain or enhance the diversity. They found that Red listed species correlated to SNG, still decreased despite an increase in SNG and an increase in managed grassland area. Helgadottir A. (Iceland) discussed The benefits of sward diversity for cultivated grasslands. This collaborative project was carried out over many European countries. Their results indicated a strong benefit of sward diversity in intensive cultivated grassland systems. They concluded that mixtures strongly reduced the incidence of unsown species in the sward and the diversity effect was consistent over a huge range of environmental conditions.

Day 2 Grassland as part of the Food chain Moloney A.P. (Ireland) study on Botanically diverse forage-based rations for cattle showed that botanically diverse fed cattle have less fat on the meat. It is well known that pasture fed cattle have increased levels of Omega-3 fattyacids, conjugated linoleic acid, vitamin E concentration, anti-oxidants, colour/lipid stability, and more yellow fat. Some are considered to be of benefit to human health. Huyghe C. (France) study on Plant diversity in grasslands and feed quality emphasised the importance of tannins and polyphenol oxidase to interact with proteins and reduce protein degradation in the rumen, better protein preservation during ensiling, and to control bloat. Levels of Tannins vary and are abundant in some forage legumes. Plant diversity may have a positive value on feeding value.

Mid conference tour I opted to visit farming systems which marketed produce under the high nature value logo. The first farm kept 65 organic Hereford cows (which is considered a large herd in Sweden) and consisted of 180ha arable, and 240ha pastures (mostly semi-natural grassland) and 30ha forest. Most of the land is rented, 70ha is owned. Bull calves are raised and sometimes sold for breeding at 14months or slaughtered at 16months (around 300kg). After slaughter, some animals are sold as quarter carcases in 'Beef Boxes' to customers. They receive EUR 46,000 environmental support for grazing these areas plus another EUR 43,000 direct payments from EU. Their aim is to profitably manage a rural landscape with easily handled and harmonious animals, which produce quality beef on semi-natural grassland. The second farm kept 210 ewes (again a large flock for Sweden) divided into three lambing groups due to market demands. The Gotland and Finn-Suffolk crosses were mated with a Texel ram and lambed in winter, spring and summer. They graze 30ha of semi-natural grasslands, 25ha rented. The farm also has 40ha arable and 40ha forest. The first lambs are slaughtered between March and June (40-45kg), Spring lambs are slaughtered August-October (45-50kg) and  summer lambs November-March (45-50kg). Skins were treated and sold on farm. They felt one of the advantages of the summer lambing was that they are kept on semi-natural grasslands and did not need any concentrates. 30% of the farms total turnover is EU support.

Day 3 Efficient resource utilisation for sustainable conventional and organic grassland production. Watson C.A. discussed the issues of Sustainable nutrient management from organic farming systems. One of the key challenges in supplying N to organically produced crops and forage and preventing gaseous and leaching losses is synchronizing N supply. In order to prevent decline in soil nutrients, it is important to balance purchases and sales of phosphorous, potassium and trace elements. The overall nutrient use efficiency of organic systems is governed by the specific cropping and management practices used on each farm. Orsz S. (Hungary) presented the Recent developments in harvesting and conservation technology for feed and biomass production of perennial forage crops. A shift towards biomass feedstock production of perennial grasses would enhance soil organic carbon, soil quality, water quality and wildlife habitat.

Can grassland-based production survive in Europe? - pathways for future success Sarzeaud P. (France) discussed the diversity of beef farming systems and grasslands use in Europe. It is interesting to note how beef has remained stable despite a decrease in grassland areas in Europe over the last 30yrs. Beef enterprises are really sensitive to competition for land, particularly in areas with mixed crops and livestock. There are three major economic trends that are changing land use; increased demand for feedstuffs, planting of bio-energy crops, and the total decoupling of subsidy payments in some European countries. That can also be translated into people need to eat, we need some bio-energy and environmental issues. Van den Pol-vav Dasselaar A. (Netherlands) discussed the issues arising from the current trend in the declining use of grazing systems for Dairy cows. A Welfare legislation for Norway, Sweden and Finland states that cows must be outside between six weeks and four months. Other Northern European countries have been decreasing e.g. Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. In the Netherlands the number of hours per day the cattle graze are decreasing. In 2001 84% of the cattle grazed in Denmark, by 2003 this had decreased to 70% and has continued to decrease to 60%. In the UK 95% of the cattle graze. The main reasons for less grazing is to control rations and optimise grassland production, increase herd size, increased use of automated milking systems, reduced grass growth in summer time, need to reduce mineral losses and labour efficiency. There are advantages to grazing, in particular for the animal to perform natural behaviour and for animal health, environmental issues, milk quality (fatty acid composition), image of dairy farming, labour and economy. Grazing has advantages and disadvantages.            

Day 4 Grassland landscape as a base for animal production - present, past and future. Causins S.A.O. (Sweden) study on the historical legacy on grassland plant diversity found that besides habitat destruction, fragmentation is considered to be a serious threat to species diversity in the remaining grasslands. Present day species richness is related to past landscape patterns. Sebastia M.T. (Spain) presentation Low-intensity livestock systems in Europe: an opportunity for quality products, recreation revenues and environmental conservation highlighted the importance of low-intensity livestock systems as reservoirs of biodiversity and providers of ecosystem services for society, as well as a source of income in many marginal agricultural areas. Many more presentations were given in the parallel sessions supporting the topics presented in the plenary sessions and a further array of posters supporting the parallel sessions. Copies of the papers are available in Grassland Science in Europe  Volume 13.

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