Campaign underway to grow more grass and sustain milk, wheat and meat production

GRASS is regarded as the key to profitable and sustainable milk and meat production in Ireland, where there is an ongoing campaign to grow more of it.

A natural resource of almost 4m hectares of grassland, combined with a mild, moist and changeable climate, provides the country with a significant comparative advantage over other international milk and meat-producing countries.

Despite these advantages, Teagasc research indicates that the current levels of grass grown and utilised on dairy, beef, and sheep farms can be increased significantly through changes in operational practices.

Grass-based production systems are at the heart of our efficient dairy, beef and sheep sectors, according to Agriculture, Food, and Marine Minister Michael Creed, and are recognised and valued by our international customers as a sustainable system.

“I experience this all the time on our trade missions abroad. Ireland has the unique selling point of being a grazing nation and we must continue to inform

Europe and the world of this advantage,” he said.

Grass10, a four-year campaign launched by Teagasc in 2017, aims to increase the number of grazings per paddock to 10 and the amount of grass utilised to 10 tonnes of grass dry matter per hectare.

Teagasc director Gerry Boyle explained that there are four important pillars to the campaign — soil fertility, sward composition and reseeding, grassland management and grazing infrastructure.

“Livestock farmers who want to get the most from grassland will have to address all four areas and this campaign aims to provide the technical knowledge and required skills to all farmers to achieve that,” said Prof Boyle.

The campaign delivers a range of activities including new grassland training modules for farmers and students, a network of grassland demonstration farms and improved grassland advice, underpinned by PastureBase Ireland, a world leading web based system.

A Grassland Farmer of the Year competition, an important part of the Teagasc Grass10 campaign to support sustainable farming from grassland production, is supported by Teagasc, the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine, AIB, FBD Insurance, Grassland Agro, and the Irish Farmers’ Journal.

Mr Creed said the competition, with his department as the main sponsor, brings the message to farm level that more effective utilisation of the national grassland resource also has the potential to further reduce negative environmental impacts while supporting increased productivity.

Feedback from around the country is that the competition is really showing farmers what can be done with attention to detail and grass measurement. The inaugural overall winners were dairy farmers Eddie O’Donnell and his father Denis, from Golden, Co Tipperary, while the top honours last year went to husband and wife John and Olivia Macnamara, who are also dairy farmers in Knockainey, Co Limerick.

At last year’s award presentations, TTeagasc chairman Liam Herlihy said 2018 showed how important grass production is to the country’s beef, sheep and dairy enterprises.

“It gives us our comparative advantage in ruminant based production systems,” he said. “This competition showcases the top farmers in the country who are using best practice in grassland management and the latest research on their farms.”

Padraig Walsh, dairy farmer and chair of the Teagasc Grass10 stakeholder committee, said growing more grass and grazing more grass will help all farmers to earn more from their farm.

“This is well documented by Teagasc research,” he said. “I would urge all farmers to focus on the steps they can take on their own individual farm to improve their grassland management.

“Measuring grass will help farmers to identify surpluses to help replenish silage stocks in 2019 after the challenges of 2018.”

Eddie and Denis O’Donnell are now set to join Europe’s most innovative grassland farmers who are to receive international awards for their innovation and commitment to excellence in grassland.

This initiative is part of the three-year Inno4Grass Thematic Network project, a €3m project funded by Horizon 2020, the European Union Research and Innovation programme.

Farmers receiving awards represent eight member states in Europe and are all excelling in grassland and grassland management despite differences in climate, systems and soil types.

Each member state has recognised a farmer excelling in grassland through different competitions which took place in the member states.

The eight countries being celebrated at the Inno4Grass award ceremony are Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and Sweden.

Grasslands have a considerable share in the agricultural area of these member states, where production of dairy, beef and sheep from grassland is of major economic importance.

The award ceremony will take place in Germany (June 11-12). Participants will visit local farms in the north of the country to discuss grassland management with different grazing and conservation techniques. They will then travel to Hannover for a conference and the official award ceremony the following day.

Ireland’s project leader, Michael O’Donovan, said it is really important for Ireland to be involved in this event to showcase the country’s excellent grassland farmers.

The O’Donnells hosted a visit during the European Grassland Federation conference in 2018, which was well received by international visitors.

Project co-ordinator Arno Krause said he is looking forward to presenting innovative grassland farmers around Europe with awards for their fantastic achievements in grassland.

“We call these farmers ‘lighthouse farmers’,” saod Mr Krause. “They are shining lights in their countries, providing other farmers with guidance, ideas and knowledge in grassland, so it is important that we recognise their contribution to society in the award ceremony.”

The Inno4Grass programme strives to bridge the gap between practice and science communities to ensure the implementation of innovative systems on productive grasslands.

The long-term goal of the project is to increase profitability of European grassland farms and to preserve environmental values across Europe.

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