Low-Input Grassland Production Systems
for Livestock Feeding
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
Fig. 1. Mountain Pasture system
Photo by Dr.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- An international workshop with the working team and invited experts
to be held at the end of the project (Banska Bystrica, Slovakia, 27-30
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
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".
- 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
- Cooperative marketing initiatives are called for in Poland and
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.
The Grassland and Mountain Agriculture
974 21 Banska Bystrica
Institute for Land Reclamation and Grassland Farming
05-090 Raszyn (Warsaw)
Upland Stock-Breeding and Agriculture
283 Vasil Levski Str.