Field projects

TCP/RER/6711(A)

Low-Input Grassland Production Systems for Livestock Feeding

Background

In recent years, political and economical changes in Eastern European Countries have dramatically affected the systems of agricultural production. Agricultural crops, including grasslands, are influenced by the increased prices of agrochemicals; in particular the higher price of nitrogen fertilizers has caused a decrease in the application rate to grasslands, consequently reducing the productivity of forage for livestock.

Nevertheless, animal production based on grassland feeding represents the most economic and environmentally sustainable form of animal production, and in many Eastern European Countries grassland represents a big proportion of total agricultural land, especially in upland and mountain regions. 

Some experimental evidence demonstrates that there is considerable potential for development on low-input grassland systems. Unfortunately, most of the information produced is kept within research institutes and is scattered, so that it is not easily available to researchers, operators and farmers because of rather inefficient extension systems. This recently completed project (TCP/RER/6711) aimed to stimulate actions to increase the productivity of grasslands, using improved forage species in low-input systems, to achieve high quality and quantity livestock production. 


Fig. 1. Mountain Pasture system
Photo by Dr. Robert Hamnett

Objectives

  • To collect existing information on low-input mountain grassland systems in Slovakia, Poland and Bulgaria 
  • To prepare an integrated proposal for the extension of existing information to farmers 
  • To prepare guidelines for a research programme and for policy makers in order to develop low-input pasture production and conservation 

Fig.2. Hay stacks in Poland
Photo by Dr. Caterina Batello

Activities
  • Planning, set-up and implementation of a data base of existing information on selected parameters of low-input grassland systems. The data base is arranged in a common standard structure and established at the premises of the research institutes collaborating to the project in Slovakia, Poland and Bulgaria

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  • Preparation of a proposal for each participating country, based on economic and social analysis of grassland production in mountain areas, in order to improve the flow of information between research institutes and farmers

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  • Preparation of a working document with technical recommendations for research and enhancement of grassland systems for mountain regions, introducing inputs required for the development of the grassland sector and methodologies for cost-benefit analysis

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  • An international workshop with the working team and invited experts to be held at the end of the project (Banska Bystrica, Slovakia, 27-30 September 1999)

Results 
  • Databases:
Research and survey information on mountain grassland farming was assembled and collated for each country, and personnel trained. General information about the geographical and ecological conditions of the region, potential of grassland parameters of low-input production systems, milk production, product quality and meat production information is now available. It is important that the database is actively maintained, used and expanded and not just considered as a record-keeping tool that has achieved its purpose.
  • Extension:
The FAO project concentrated on the transfer of research results to farmers. Open/field days were organised with the support of privately owned farms. Limited assistance was provided to a number of farms through advisory inputs and some supplies and equipment ( for example seed mixtures, fertilisers, electric fencing). In the eastern Slovak Republic there were 15 demonstration farms, mainly large cooperative enterprises up to 16,300 ha in size. In south-eastern Poland the ten farms were small family units with a high degree of self-sufficiency and with sizes ranging from 6.3 to 50 ha, but in many cases made up of strips or parcels of land. In central Bulgaria the farms were mainly small in terms of area owned (some few ha), but additional land is rented from the communally owned or state owned land, in order to have a viable enterprise. The project prepared various advisory leaflets and six practical booklets on "Grassland establishment"; "Grazing systems for low inputs"; "Using natural resources for suckled calf beef production"; "Low-input steers from grass"; "Sheep production in mountain regions"; and "Making wilted silage".

Conclusions
  • The results of the project highlighted the need for each country to formulate national land use strategies which define the priority agricultural products wanted and hence the adaptation of existing systemsof production necessary to produce them. Finishing beef steers on grazing instead of indoors, suckled calf beef production, exploitation of dual purpose cattle and sheep, and the regeneration of milking ewe flocks were identified as worthwhile enterprises for the introduction of new technologies.
  • The decline in cattle and sheep numbers must be arrested in order to prevent further deterioration of the natural/semi natural pastures. 
  • Full use should be made of existing national knowledge. "Western" technology should also be used where relevant, but this requires that staff have a knowledge of foreign languages. 
  • Marketing and branding of special agricultural products from the mountains require strenghtening, and initiative taken to stimulate consumer demand with the proviso that a high quality, hygienic supply be assured.
  • Cooperative marketing initiatives are called for in Poland and Bulgaria .

  • There is an increasing demand for organic or ecological food products in Western Europe, and so there is scope for a part of mountain grassland farming, the low input nature of which are only a few steps removed from being organic, to be converted so as to meet accreditation standards. 

Contacts:
 
The Grassland and Mountain Agriculture Research Institute 
Mladeznicka 36 
974 21 Banska Bystrica 
Slovak Republic 
email: faolin@nmost.vutphp.sk 
Institute for Land Reclamation and Grassland Farming at Falenty 
05-090 Raszyn (Warsaw)
Poland 
Institute of Upland Stock-Breeding and Agriculture 
283 Vasil Levski Str. 
5600 Troyan 
Bulgaria