Field projects

TCP/ROM/0168 (A)

Grassland Ecosystems from the Mountain and Related Farm Products

1. BACKGROUND

Mountains are fragile ecosystems and have been severely affected by recent events such as the drastic reduction in number of grazing animals, combined with a reduced number of people living in mountain villages, and with changes in the economy. The natural grasslands were traditionally grazed during the growing season, and therefore pastoralists and grazing animals assured control of the vegetation, and provided the necessary management to maintain its productivity. Recent abandonment of these areas is resulting in undesirable vegetation encroachment, often soil erosion can be observed, and young people are looking for alternative activities since there is little economic return from farming in mountain areas. Increased prices of agro-chemicals are affecting production of agricultural crops, including grasslands.

It is therefore of primary importance to adopt new methods to increase production while limiting energy inputs, and at the same time maintaining the conservation aspect of grasslands.

In Romania grasslands cover some 4.9 million ha of which 3.4 million ha are used for grazing and 1.5 million ha for haymaking. The grasslands represent 33 percent of arable land or over 20 percent of the total surface of the country. The mountain area, which is considered to be the land between 600 and 2,500 m a.s.l. is mainly covered by grasslands, which represent 2 million ha, that is some 40 percent of the total grasslands. In conditions where very little use of modern technology is made, the mean actual yield is 7 t/ha of green matter, with a relatively low degree of conversion in terms of products with an average of 1,200 l/ha of milk or 100 kg/ha of liveweight gain. The majority of grassland is privately owned (2.9 million ha of grazing land and 1.4 million ha used for haymaking), with the remainder in the public and private domain of government (0.48 million ha used as grazing pastures and 0.08 million ha used for cutting hay).

Favourable climatic conditions in the mountain zones and annual rainfall from 600-1400 mm, are generally favourable for vegetation development on the grasslands, but there are large areas under the influence of limiting factors such as: excess moisture, acidity, erosion, steep slopes and non-levelled land, which reduce the amount of land that can be mechanized. These factors result in low grassland productivity in the absence of the application of adequate technical measures.

On the basis of results obtained in a number of experimental grassland research trials, it has been found that the dry matter yield could be trebled from the quantitative point of view and the degree of conversion in animal products increased accordingly. However, information on using low-input technologies is still scattered and not readily available to researchers and farmers. Mountain Research Stations have developed forage species and management systems adapted to the harsh mountain climatic conditions, but the information lamentably has not been sufficiently circulated. Project TCP/RER/6711 promoted access to and use of this information in the Slovak Republic, Bulgaria and Poland, through a common information database, but assistance is needed to extend the information network to Romania. Moreover, the project provided evidence of the economic and environmental importance of obtaining meat and milk production from grassland based systems, and Romania could benefit from the experience gained by using TCDC experts that collaborated in the regional project TCP/RER/6711. The strong links established with the support of the project among the three Mountain Grassland Institutes has started a process of collaboration between the three countries, and assistance is needed to enlarge this spirit of collaboration to the Mountain Grassland Institutes in Romania.

The present poor extension services in Romania cannot assure an adequate flow of information to farmers, and therefore the adoption of new agronomic practices is limited. Assistance is needed to improve the flow of information from the scientific level to farmers and assure feed back in order to orientate research towards the needs of the farmer.

2. OBJECTIVES

Stimulating actions to improve mountain grassland maintenance, management, and productivity. In particular the project will use the experience gained from TCP/RER/6711 for the preparation of extension material and for the establishment of a common database that will strengthen the collaboration between the four mountain countries (Bulgaria, Poland, Romania and the Slovak Republic). The project will provide indications as to how to improve the economic efficiency of pasture-based meat and milk production systems, in particular related to the possibilities of developing an organic market for meat and milk, and also provide recommendations related to management and improvement of grassland species adapted to mountain conditions, that perform well under low-input regimes.

3. OUTPUTS

  • new concepts introduced in terms of management practices, fertilizers and balanced technologies for grassland production in the mountain regions;
  • new pasture varieties and locally adapted grass-legume mixtures introduced;
  • a database established that will link with related information from Bulgaria, Poland and the Slovak Republic, and form the basis for the preparation of information material;
  • scientists exposed to new technologies through the opportunities to exchange information, to undertake on-the-job training as well as some training abroad;
  • through support to extension services and preparation of extension material, farmers will have had the opportunity to learn about new production systems which are more economically sustainable and which have less negative impact on the environment;
  • specific recommendations prepared for the development of an organic market for mountain products from natural pastures;
  • recommendations produced for medium and long term plans for the development of mountain regions in order to increase their productivity (from grasslands), increase farmers’ incomes, and to protect the fragile mountain ecosystems.

4. IMPLEMENTATION

Missions were fielded in 2002 and 2003 and the project was completed at the end of 2003.