Learning from the BGS Summer Meeting in Brittany

Learning from the BGS Summer Meeting in Brittany

Thursday, June 30, 2016

As I write, we've just returned from the British Grassland Society summer meeting in Brittany. Our group, mostly farmers but also some scientists and commercial members, learned much about livestock farming just across the Channel, as well as experiencing some typically excellent French fare and hospitality! Brittany is an important livestock and also vegetable growing region, but NVZ legislation means that stocking rates are strongly limited, in an area where farms are generally considerably smaller than here. The group were surprised just how constrained the farmers were in terms of stocking density, controlled by N loading rates, as well as strict rules about N applications, such as on maize after grass. However, the British farmers did feel that their French colleagues have more Government support for farming, for disease control or herd health, as well as in how subsidies are paid.

We saw a range of very diverse systems, from a very forage-based, moderate yield dairy, to high-yielding dairy using a robot with some grazing, as well beef units varying from primarily grass and forage finished animals, to intensive finishing indoors. However, all had a focus on growing quality forage, and in most cases feed, on-farm, to reduce the cost of bought-in feed. We also visited a research farm in Normandy, where systems based on grazed grass and maize plus grass were being evaluated for their effectiveness in terms of economic, environmental, and social (life balance) impacts, alongside work to assess the benefits or impacts of low-input systems including undersown maize and wheat.

The farmers we visited were all either pilot farms for dairy research organisations such as Institut de l'Elevage (the French Livestock Institute), the regional chambers of agriculture or members of Eilyps, the growth and performance organisation which is farmer-funded. It was evident that there is a great deal of practical help available to help farmers become more efficient either by lowering costs through their systems, or becoming more self-sufficient in feeding by growing more feed on-farm, either for protein or energy, or by improving forage utilisation. Whilst we do not have such established advisory networks now in the UK, there is still some support available, whether organisation or farmer-led. One such example is the BGS grazing mentors project, which is now open to farmers wishing to get guidance from a fellow farmer to increase what they get from grazing. We have a mentor in Shropshire so if is of interest please contact BGS at bgsoffice@britishgrassland.com. If the summer meeting sounds of interest, watch this space – we'll coming to Shropshire in July 2017! 

Elaine Jewkes, BGS Director (June 2016)


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