Country Pasture/Forage Resource Profiles


HUNGARY



by

Géza Nagy



1. Introduction
2. Soils and Topography
3. Climate and Agro-ecological Zones
4. Ruminant Livestock Production Systems
5. The Pasture Resource
6. Opportunities for Improvement of Fodder Resources
7. Research and Development Organizations and Personnel
8. References
9. Contacts


1. INTRODUCTION

Hungary is a small, relatively flat country in the heart of Europe, geographically located in the Carpathian Basin, covering 93 000 sq km. The country is bordered by Slovakia to the north, Ukraine to the northeast, Romania to the east, Yugoslavia and Croatia to the south, Slovenia to the southwest and Austria to the west (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Location of Hungary

hungarymap.jpg (14173 bytes)

The total population of the country numbered 10 196 000 at the beginning of 2001 (According to the World Factbook the July 2006 population estimate was 9,981,334 with a -0.25% growth rate). This means that population density of Hungary is 109.6 people per sq km. This figure reflects only minor regional changes, but the centre of the country, Budapest, and its surroundings are much more densely populated than the national average. Hungary is one of the most capital-centred countries in the world. Budapest, located in the northern centre, is the hub of all main roads and railway lines, which run radially toward the capital. This central area also has the strongest economy.

Table 1. Land area by land use categories in Hungary

Category

1990

1993

1996

1999

1000 hectares

Arable land

Garden

Orchard

Vineyard

Grassland

4712.8

341.1a)

95.1

138.5

1185.6

4712.5

35.3

93.0

131.7

1156.6

4712.7

98.2

94.3

130.9

1148.3

4708.0

107.7

96.4

127.0

1147.2

Agricultural area

6473.1a)

6129.1

6184.5

6186.3

Forest

Reed

Fish-pond

1695.

40.3

26.9

1763.9

40.4

27.1

1764.5

41.2

27.0

1774.9

41.1

32.8

Productive land area

8235.7

7.960.5

8.017.2

8.035.1

Uncultivated land area

1067.5b)

1342.5

1285.8

1267.9

Total

9303.2

9303.0

9303.0

9303.0

Distribution in percentage

Arable land

Garden

Orchard

Vineyard

Grassland

50.7

3.7a)

1.0

1.5

12.7

50.7

0.4

1.0

1.4

12.4

50.7

1.1

1.0

1.4

12.3

50.6

1.2

1.0

1.4

12.3

Agricultural area

69.6a)

65.9

66.5

66.5

Forest

Reed
Fish-pond

18.2

0.4

0.3

19.0

0.4

0.3

19.0

0.4

0.3

19.1

0.4

0.4

Productive land area

88.5

85.6

86.2

86.4

Uncultivated land area

11.5b)

14.4

13.8

13.6

Total

100.0

100.0

100.0

100.0

a) Gardens in inner areas included

b) Gardens in inner areas excluded Source: HCSO (2000)

Due to the relatively flat landscape and the control of natural water regimes, which date back to the nineteenth century, a very high proportion (86.4 percent) of the total land area is productive land (Table 1). Of this, agriculture represents 66.5 percent and forestry 19.1 percent. Looking at the distribution of agricultural land, it can be seen that Hungary is an arable, production-centred country. More than half (50.6 percent) of its total area was arable land in 1999. Grasslands represent only 12.3 percent of the total area. This proportion, compared to most European countries, is very low.

Agriculture in the national economy

Hungary had a typical agricultural economy until the last decades of the previous century. Agriculture played a prominent role in employment, family incomes and supplying food for the population. It experienced a big boom between the sixties and eighties. Large farm structures were established and stabilized. Agricultural inputs and outputs were considerably increased. During the same period, one third of the total agricultural output was exported to countries of the so called Eastern Block.

The socio-economic transition has greatly influenced agriculture since 1990. Land privatisation was a key element in this respect. Formerly nationalized land was given back to citizens. New private family farms were established along with elimination of formerly flourishing large farms, co-operatives or state farms. Today, the country has a mixed farm structure, as regards farm sizes. Small family farms with a few hectares of land and big agricultural companies with some thousand hectares of land co-exist. In agricultural outlets, private ownership is dominant, but there are a few large, state owned farms as well, assisting agricultural development on a regional basis.

Some indicators of the influence of the transition period (since 1990) on agriculture:

  • agricultural employment declined from about 20 percent to about 6 percent, up to present;
  • changing economic conditions reduced farming profitability to a great extent;
  • both inputs and outputs were considerably reduced;
  • the share of agriculture and food industry decreased in the national economy (Table 2),
  • the share of agro-industry in external trade dropped by more than 50 percent (Table 3),
  • consumption of the main foodstuffs has undergone unfavourable changes (Table 4).

Table 2. Share of agriculture and food industry in the Hungarian national economy (as a percentage)

Share in GDP

1991

1992

1993

1994

1995

1996

1997

1998

Agriculture

7.8

6.5

5.8

6.0

6.2

5.8

5.2

4.9

Food industry

4.6

4.2

4.0

3.8

3.5

3.5

3.3

3.1

Together

12.4

10.7

9.8

9.8

9.7

9.3

8.5

8.0

Source: HCSO (2000)

Table 3. Share of agricultural and food industry products in total imports and exports (as a percentage)

Year

Share of import

Share of export

1993

6.4

22.4

1994

7.3

21.7

1995

6.3

22.7

1996

5.2

17.4

1997

5.1

15.0

1998

4.7

12.1

1999

3.5

9.2

Source: HCSO (2000)

Table 4. Consumption per capita of main foodstuffs (kg)

Category

1990

1993

1996

1998

Meat, meat products and fish

Bony meat

beef and veal

pork

Poultry meat

Fish

75.8

45.7

6.5

38.8

22.8

2.7

70.9

40.4

7.9

31.9

22.4

3.0

62.6

33.0

5.2

27.3

23.5

2.5

64.6

31.9

4.4

27.0

26.8

2.8

Milk, butter is excluded

169.9

145.1

138.0

151.8

Fats total

Fresh butter

Lard

Edible oil

Margarine

38.6

1.7

24.2

8.0

3.8

37.0

1.5

21.1

8.3

5.4

36.1

1.6

18.6

9.0

5.9

36.7

1.1

17.5

10.8

5.8

Number of eggs

Flour and rice

Potatoes

Sugar

389.0

110.4

61.0

38.2

368.0

98.7

59.7

36.0

270.0

85.6

67.0

40.3

269.0

85.4

68.4

41.9

Vegetables

Fruits

Of which: domestic

tropical

83.3

72.3

61.6

10.7

84.8

76.7

63.1

13.6

90.3

64.4

49.8

14.6

95.8

68.5

54.1

14.4

In spite of the declining importance of agriculture in Hungary over the last decade, locally, agriculture still may have a very important social mission in rural life. At least half of the population is still involved in agriculture either as full time employment or part time farming for family supply, or to earn extra income.

Arable farming

On arable land, the role of cereals (57.3 percent) dominates (Table 5). Of the cereal crops, maize (26.6 percent), wheat (18.7 percent with rye) and barley (8.0 percent) are the most important. Of the so-called cash crops, sunflower (12.6 percent) and industrial crops, e.g. fibre plants, tobacco, etc. (5.3 percent) have a relatively high proportion in land use.

Herbage and forage plants (rough and succulent fodders in statistical nomenclature) used to make up about a fifth of arable land use, however this decreased to 8.6 percent by 1999. Of these plants, clover (5 percent) and silage (and green) maize (3.3 percent) were the most important crops.

Crops are grown at a relatively high technical level. For some crops and in years with favourable weather, average yields per hectare may be comparable with those of leading European countries (Table 6). The development of crop production is hindered by very limited financial resources for higher inputs. For example the average use of fertilizers on arable land is about 50-60 kg ha-1, which is much below the optimum use even under sustainable agricultural production conditions.

Table 5. Structure of sown area on arable land (percentage)

Crop

1990

1993

1996

1999

Cerealsa)

59.8

62.9

62.6

57.3

wheatb). rye

maize

barley

28.3

23.3

6.4

24.5

26.1

10.0

27.9

23.9

7.3

18.7

26.6

8.0

Potatoes

Pulses

Industrial cropsc)

Sunflower

Sugar beet

1.0

3.1

2.5

7.5

2.8

1.3

2.3

1.9

9.1

2.2

1.3

1.2

2.5

10.6

2.7

1.3

1.2

5.3

12.6

1.6

Rough and succulent fodders

19.0

14.8

9.2

8.6

silage maize and green maize

clover

7.2

6.5

5.4

5.9

3.3

5.3

3.3

5.0

Vegetablesd)

2.5

1.9

2.4

2.5

Other crops

1.8

3.6

7.5

9.4

Sown area total

100.0

100.0

100.0

100.0

a) Millet, sorghum and buckwheat are excluded
b)Including durum wheat
c) Sugar beet and oil-seeds are excluded
d) Hungarian red paprika is excluded from 1996

Source: HCSO (2000)

Table 6. Average yield of some main crops (in kg ha-l)

Year

Cereals

Wheat

Maize

Potatoes

Sunflower

Sugar beet

1990

4,400

5,050

3,990

16,920

1,950

36,090

1991

5,520

5,190

6,710

15,760

2,070

37,160

1992

3,680

4,070

3,650

16,850

1,780

27,190

1993

3,090

3,050

3,500

13,310

1,660

22,950

1994

3,990

4,590

3,850

12,770

1,600

31,980

1995

4,050

4,160

4,430

15,780

1,600

33,950

1996

4,000

3,280

5,610

17,790

1,820

39,590

1997

4,790

4,210

6,410

16,280

1,220

37,680

1998

4,570

4,140

5,950

18,850

1,680

41,960

1999

4,720

3,590

6,380

18,390

1,520

44,540

Source: HCSO (2000)


2. SOILS AND TOPOGRAPHY

Hungarian grasslands are grown under different soil conditions. The agro-ecopotential survey, which was carried out in the 1980s, classified 32 different soil types under grasslands. According to the generic soil classification used in Hungary, these soil types are grouped into six main types (Table 7).

Table 7. Main soil types, their proportion and relative productivity under grasslands

Main soil types (classified)

Area

( percent)

Productivity ( percent)relative to best chernozem*

Skeletal soils (e.g. rocky, sand, rendzina etc.)

6.5

51

Braun forest soils(e.g. non- and podsolic, pseudogley etc.)

10.8

86

Chernozem soils

10.1

94

Salt-affected soils (e.g. solonchak, solonetz etc.)

25.8

80

Meadow soils (e.g. solonchak-, solonetz-like, marshy etc.)

21.7

92

Bog and marsh soils (e.g. alluvial, moor etc.) Miscellaneous

17.4

7.7

88

-

*: productivity with adequate management
Source: Nagy and Vinczeffy (1995)

Grassland scientists agree that grasslands in Hungary are growing under marginal soil conditions. Chernozem soils may be one exception, but on these soils uncontrolled water regimes explain the marginal conditions. These marginal soil conditions are not surprising. The expansion of arable cropping led to the ploughing-up of grasslands on the most fertile soils. Presently, there are no grasslands on soils suitable for arable cropping. Earlier investigations on some native pastures in Hungary listed many unfavourable soil traits for grassland production: low nutrient content (mainly N), poor texture and drainage, poor water management, blocked soil aeration, high salt content (especially Na), low microbial activity, etc. (Nagy, 1988).

Topography

The country has mostly plains; mountains can be found only in the middle of Transdanubia and in the northern part of East Hungary (Figure 2).

hungaryfig2.gif (73782 bytes)

Figure 2. Topography of Hungary

Table 8. Topography of Hungarian grasslands

Slope gradient, percent

Proportion of grassland area, percent

0-5

50

6-15

23

16-25

22

above 25

5

Mean slope gradient

8.3

Source: Agro-ecopotential Survey (Láng et. al., 1983)


3. CLIMATE AND AGRO-ECOLOGICAL ZONES

Located in the northern hemisphere and far from the influence of the large oceans, Hungary has a temperate continental climate, with large differences between summer and winter seasons. Although Hungary is a relatively small country, ecological conditions are very diverse. The agro-economic potential survey of the Hungarian Scientific Academy (Láng et al., 1983) has distinguished 35 ecological regions in the country. Studies on the existing ecological conditions in the given regions has led to the yield potential mapping of Hungarian grasslands on a national scale.

For grassland production, light or radiation, temperature and water relationships (soil moisture) are the three cardinal climatic factors affecting vegetative development and flowering of grassland species. Hungary has a substantial global radiation. The average energy input by radiation onto the surface is 4430 MJ m-2 year-1, which is a vast resource for plant production (Table 9). This relatively high radiation is due to the long photoperiod, which comprises 2050 hours year-1. In Hungary, the average annual daily temperature is 100 C, and for the growing season is 17.5 °C. In general, the average temperature is slightly higher than the optimum for grassland production, especially in mid-season. The temperatures which determine the growing season show an unbalanced annual pattern due to the continental-type climate. For example, the spring temperature accumulation, which controls early growing is extremely changeable between years. In an experiment between 1980 and 1982 we measured the temperature accumulation (T-Sum) aimed at timing spring N application and found a four-week difference between the earliest and latest years (Nagy, 1984).

The most variable element of the Hungarian climate is precipitation. Average annual precipitation is around 600 mm, but differences between years and the seasonal distribution are extreme. For example, looking at figures from Debrecen, the minimum and maximum annual precipitation between years 1900 and 1950 were 342 mm and 874 mm, respectively.

The seasonal distribution is presented in Figure 3. It is seen that July rainfall may be close to nil or up to 150 mm. This provides an unpredictable water supply for the vegetation and makes summer grass growth vulnerable. This vulnerability is also explained by the difference between annual precipitation and annual evapotranspiration (Figure 4). It is well known that in mid season the potential evapotranspiration is high and the precipitation does not meet it, and so there is shortage of soil moisture for grass growth. If it is severe and long lasting, grass growth stops, shoots may dry up and grasslands are "burnt" which is a typical summer landscape in the Plains.

Table 9. Average and maximum-minimum values of some climatic factors in Hungary

Climatic factor

Minimum

value

Maximum

value

Mean

value

Radiation (MJ m-2 year-1)

3300

5100

4430

Annual photoperiod (hours year-1)

1700

2400

2050

Mean daily temperature (0C)

Annual

Growing season

7.8

16.1

11.8

19.2

10.1

17.5

Annual temperature sum
(0C year-1)

2840

4300

3670

Annual precipitation (mm year-1)

280

1500

600

Potential evapotranspiration (mm year-1)    

685*

Climate index (mm 0C-1 year-1)

0.09*

0.24*

0.16*

*Data for Debrecen

Source: Climate Atlas of Hungary (1968)

Figure 3. Seasonal pattern of minimum, maximum and average annual rainfall,
Debrecen, 1900-1950.

hungaryfig3.jpg (15483 bytes)

hungaryfig3a.jpg (2168 bytes)

Source: Climate Atlas of Hungary (1968)

Figure 4. Seasonal pattern of average annual rainfall (R) and potential evapotranspiration (PET) Debrecen, 1900-1950.

hungaryfig4.gif (4298 bytes)

hungaryfig4a.jpg (1814 bytes)

Source: Climate Atlas of Hungary (1968)

Grassland research was focused earlier on the relationship between temperature and water supply. Nagy (1979) after lysimeter experiments, and Vinczeffy (1985) after detailed analysis of the effect of climatic elements on grass growth in a long-term fertilization experiment concluded that optimum ratio of precipitation and temperature is 0.20-0.25 mm 0C-1. It means that grass growth is optimal if at least 0.20 mm soil moisture is available for each 0C temperature. As "T-Sum" in Hungary is 3670 0C in a year, 734 mm annual rainfall should be needed as minimum for optimal grass growth. Comparing this to the annual rainfall (600 mm), there is a deficit of water of 134 mm on average throughout the year.

Yield potential of Hungarian grasslands

A schematic pattern of yield potential of grassland is shown in Figure 5. The greatest yield potential could be calculated according to the photosynthetically active radiation. This potential is greatly reduced by the temperature which exceeds the threshold for plant growing only in the growing season. Due to the relative shortage of water the temperature-based yield potential is reduced further. In this respect, it has to be mentioned that not only the annual precipitation, but its seasonal distribution is a real constraint for the temperature-based yield potential. Under natural conditions soil traits do limit yields as well, as Hungarian grasslands have remained under marginal soil conditions. The average dry matter (DM) yield of natural grasslands in Hungary is about 1.5 t ha-1 which reflects the poor ecological conditions.

Figure 5. Schematic yield potential of grasslands according to climatic factors, soil conditions and production inputs (in Hungary)

hungaryfigure5.jpg (15656 bytes)

Source:Nagy and Vinczeffy (1995)

On cultivated grasslands, some of the limiting factors for yield potential may be reduced or eliminated. With increasing inputs yield potential may be increased to high levels. In a recent study (Nagy and Vinczeffy, 1995) on the yield potential of Hungarian grasslands, a detailed analysis of temperature, water relations, topography, soil conditions and the technical level of farming have been considered for the 35 agro-ecological regions. Based on the temperature and water relations, the yield potential of grassland in Hungary under intensive management would be 16.41 t DM ha-1 (Table 10). The topography reduces this potential by 16.6 percent, as the average slope percent is 8.3 percent on the grasslands and there is a 2 percent yield decrease per 1 percent slope. If we look at the relative soil fertility as well (based on the regional soil conditions, it is 82 percent compared to best chernozem soil), the yield potential is reduced to 11.53 t DM ha-1. At different technical levels of farming (80 percent or 60 percent) achievable yields in practice are 9.22 or 6.90 t DM ha-1, respectively.

Table 10 Yield potential (t DM ha-1) of Hungarian grasslands based on ecological factors and levels of farming

Based on water and temperature relations

Based on topography

Based on grassland soil fertility

Technical level of farming percent

80 60

16.41

14.08

11.53

9.22

6.90

Source: Nagy and Vinczeffy (1995)


4. RUMINANT LIVESTOCK PRODUCTION SYSTEMS

Livestock husbandry

While the ruminant sector (cattle and sheep ) has great historical traditions in Hungarian agriculture, monogastric livestock farming was strengthened in the agricultural boom between 1960-1985. At the end of this period, crop production and livestock husbandry both enjoyed an equal share of the total agricultural output.

The socio-economic transition period has had its negative effects on the number of animals in the country (Table 11).

Table 11. Livestock in Hungary 1990-2005 (‘000 head)

Year

Cattle

Of which:

cow

Sheep

Horse

Pig

Of which:

sow

Poultry

1990

1,598

560

2,069

75

7,660

n.r

58,564

1991

1,571

518

1,865

76

8,000

624

50,011

1992

1,420

487

1,808

75

5,993

482

38,951

1993

1,159

438

1,752

73

5,364

467

39,542

1994

999

403

1,252

72

5,002

401

33,829

1995

910

392

947

78

4,356

335

38,382

1996

928

397

977

71

5,032

436

35,521

1997

909

386

872

79

5,289

379

32,300

1998

871

379

858

72

4,931

345

35,665

1999

873

384

909

70

5,479

391

35,995

2000

857

376

934

70

5,335

379

31,244

2001

805

355

1,129

74

4,834

n.r

37,016

2002

783

345

1,136

65

4,822

n.r

43,279

2003

770

332

1,103

63

5,082

n.r

40,909

2004

739

327

1,296

62

4,913

n.r

47,268

2005
723
304
1,397
67
4,059
n.r.
41,330

Source: FAOSTAT, 2006; n.r. = no record

Each animal species had lower numbers in 1999 than ten years previously, e.g. ruminant livestock decreased by 40 percent on average in the period 1990-1999 (Figure 6), although the rate of decline has eased and sheep numbers have increased again so that in 2005 numbers are back to those of pre-1994!

Figure 6. Change of ruminant livestock over the past 10 years 1990 = 100%

hungaryfig6.gif (5447 bytes)

Source: after HCSO (2000)

Systems of ruminant livestock husbandry differ according to animal and the purpose of farming. In dairying, intensive indoor farming is prevalent. Large farms (many hundreds or even more than a thousand head in a single unit) base milk production on arable forages: maize silage, clover, hay and grain supplements. Beef production (fattening calves of dairy cattle) is practiced in the same way and with the same forages. The number of cattle in Hungary in 2004 was about 739,000 and sheep 1,296,000 (numbers have increased since 1998). Their feeding is based on grasslands, which means mostly extensive grazing throughout the season.

Sheep farming is based on grassland. Flocks of ewes are grazed in the grazing season and grass hay is a very important winter feed for them. Lambing is timed for spring at the time of very good grass availability. Weaned lambs are exported to EU countries, mainly Italy. Lamb fattening for slaughter means more intensive farming: indoor keeping based on arable forages and grain supplements as for dairy production and beef fattening.

Table 12 contains data on meat and milk production and various live animal and meat and milk imports and exports over the period 1996-2005. Live cattle, pig and sheep exports are considerable as are meat and milk product exports.

Table 12. Hungary: meat and milk production and import/export data 1996-2005, FAOSTAT (2006)

 

1996

1997

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

Beef & veal (,000 mt)

50.2

55.3

47.0

51.0

66.9

51.6

47.6

60.5

53.0

45.6

Lamb & mutton (,000 mt)

1.6

1.9

2.5

3.6

3.6

2.6

2.5

1.1

1.1

1.2

Pig meat (,000 mt)

671

581

570

626

613

556

580

631

510

483

Total poultry meat (,000 mt)

377

402

451

399

470

472

515

492

469

470

Total milk* (,000 mt)

2,007

2,019

2,141

2,142

2,187

2,195

2,173

2,068

1,942

2,043

Live cattle exports, nos (,000)

103

121

91

74

124

128

86

51

90

n.r.

Live pigs exports nos (,000)

108.3

181.4

90.4

153.8

340.5

345.1

229.9

119.8

100.9

n.r.

Live sheep exports nos (,000)

898

851

746

777

877

852

910

1,072

752

n.r.

Live sheep imports nos (,000)

54.8

178.4

81.8

116.8

142.4

277

138

100

135

n.r.

Milk equivalent imports (,000 mt)

54.7

93.5

93.7

89.8

116.5

107.2

131.2

153.8

143.6

n.r.

Milk equivalent exports (,000 mt)

86.0

114.8

152.7

213.2

203.5

283.5

295.9

294.3

96.4

n.r.

Pig meat exports (,000 mt)

138.6

143.1

123.5

133.5

150.6

126.9

114.3

109.1

94.8

n.r.

Poultry meat exports (,000 mt)

125.4

140.7

134.4

125.6

121.8

131.9

134.0

134.3

118.1

n.r.

*Cow, sheep and goat milk
n.r. = no record

5. THE PASTURE RESOURCE

Traditionally, Hungarian grasslands were classified at registration according to type of use, namely pastures (exclusively grazed), meadows (exclusively cut for hay) and the so-called "cut grasslands"(primary growth cut, then grazed in the season). However, this terminology stopped being used about 15 years ago, and since then only the term "grassland" has been used in registration.

The regional distribution of grasslands is uneven among the various geographical regions (see Table 13). The amount of grassland is less than the national average in the western regions and around the capital, Budapest, and higher than average in the eastern parts where there is also an increase from south to north.

The size and shape of grassland "fields" varies according to the region. In the western parts of Hungary, where the land surface is generally undulating, the average size of grassland fields is generally small. In northern areas bigger fields occur on slopes, with smaller grass areas in the valleys. In eastern areas, on the great Hungarian Plain, the surface is flat and grassland fields are much bigger (Nagy and Peto, 1998). These grasslands make up the Puszta landscape for which Hungary is famous (see Figure 7). On these grasslands pastoralism was the main primary industry and occupation, but with recent developments its role is continually declining.

Table 13. The proportion of grasslands in land use by region

Regions

Grassland area
1000 ha

Grasslands %
in agricultural land*

Grasslands %
in productive
land*

Pest county

64.8

16.1

11.9

North Hungary

215.0

27.5

18.34

North Hungarian Plane

261.8

19.5

16.9

South Hungarian Plane

243.7

17.7

15.3

West Trans-Danubia

117.9

17.6

11.6

North Trans-Danubia

117.2

17.5

13.8

South Trans-Danubia

124.0

14.4

10.4

Total/mean

1.148.0

18.8

14.4

* According to Hungarian Land Registration the categories for different land use systems are:
The Total land area is divided into Productive and Non Productive Land. The Productive part is further divided into 3 categories - Agricultural, Forestry and Reed/fishponds. The Agricultural category is further divided into cropland, gardens, grape and grassland.

Source: HCSO (1996)

Figure 7. A typical scene on the Hortobagy Puszta landscape in Eastern Hungary

hungaryfigure7.jpg (16840 bytes)

[For further information on grasslands and sheep production in Hungary see Website]

Forage resources for animal production

Farming and feeding systems of ruminant production presented in the previous section have already shown that arable forages (maize silage and lucerne hay) comprise the main part of forage resources. Recently average yields of maize for silage are about 25 tons fresh matter per hectare. The structure of annually preserved hay has continuously changed over the last 15 years (Table 14).The role of grasslands in hay production is declining. Its proportion averaged 43.5, 37.9 and 35.5 percent respectively in the last three five year periods. During the same period, the role of clover in hay feeding increased from 46.5 percent up to 56.6 percent. It seems that clover for hay is taking over the role of grassland as forage.

Table 14. Forage resources and their composition over recent five-year periods in Hungary

Resources

1986-90

1991-95

1996-99

1000t

percent

1000t

percent

1000t

percent

Forages* in total

3478

100.0

2379

100.0

2588

100

from that

grasslands

1512

43.5

899

37.9

920

35.5

clover

1619

46.5

1275

53.5

1464

56.6

other forages

347

10.0

205

8.6

204

7.9

* Crops suitable for hay making (e.g. grass, clovers, etc.) excluding crops unsuitable for hay (e.g. maize, fodder beet, sorghums etc., preserved as silage)

Source: HCSO (1993, 1999)

The grassland area in the country has continuously declined over the past 20 years, although it had been stable since the middle of the twentieth century. Due to the reduced number of ruminant livestock, quantities of hay produced were reduced as well. Recently, Hungary has produced only half the quantity of grass hay that it produced 20 years ago. The average yield has also been halved in this period of time (Table 15).

Table 15. Area, total production* and average yield per ha of Hungarian grasslands over recent five-year periods.

Resources

1981-85

1986-90

1991-95

1996-99

Grassland area 1000 ha

1256.8

1205.6

1137.7

1147.8

Total hay production 1000t

2020.0

1511.7

896.3

919.8

Average hay yield t ha-l

1.61

1.25

0.79

0.80

* expressed in hay equivalent

Source: HCSO (1993, 1999)

Present inputs on grasslands, sward composition and yields

Recent information on grassland inputs indicate that the level of inputs has decreased in the last two decades. The big farms (co-operatives, share holding companies, public limited enterprises), where the level of farming is higher than the national average, supplied negligible inputs to grasslands. They fertilized 5.2 percent of their total grassland area and the average fertilization rate per ha of the total grassland area was only 4 kg ha-1. Weed and disease control was applied on less than 1 percent of the grasslands (Table 16). At these very low level of inputs farming cannoteliminate unfavourable ecological conditions (e.g. low soil fertility) and cannot greatly increase grass production.

Table 16. Inputs on grasslands (Large joint farms), 1996.

Fertilized area ( percent)

5.2

Fertilization (kg ha-1 on total area)

3.6

Fertilization (kg ha-1 on fertilized area)

68.8

Herbicide application area ( percent)

0.2

Fungicide/pesticide applic. area ( percent)

0.3

Source: HCSO (1996)

The poor ecological conditions and low level of inputs have been reflected by the sward composition of grasslands. In Hungary seeded grasslands can hardly be found. The semi-natural permanent pastures and meadows have a relatively high number of species, poor quality and low yield potential (Table 17). The most common grasslands are the narrow-leaved Fescues (e.g. Festuca pseudovina, F. ovina), which have good quality, low yield and poor N-response. They may be improved only with overseeding and renovation. These poor swards can only meet the requirements of extensive production systems. However, they have great potential for bio-farming, as many companion plants have medicinal effects and melliferous potential (Vinczeffy, 1997).

Table 17. Hydrological conditions, species number, quality rank and annual yield of native grasslands

No. of grasslands types

wet

Ecological
conditions
medium

dry

Average no.
of species
(extreme values)

Average
quality
(1=poor,

5=very good)

Annual
yield
(t ha-1 DM)

36

12

11

13

42.4 (11-66)

2.2

1.5-2.5

Source: After Vinczeffy (1993)

Grasses and clovers on offer for forage production

According to Act of Parliament No. 1996/CXXXI, only plant varieties which have been granted state registration can be cultivated and marketed in Hungary. The variety trials which precede state registration are carried out by the National Institute for Agricultural Quality Control (NIAQC).

A plant variety can be state registered:

  • if it can be distinguished from other plant varieties and is uniform and stable;
  • if it possesses a variety denomination suitable for registration;
  • if, in the cases of varieties of certain plant species listed in the enacting clauses, the variety has satisfactory value for cultivation and use.

Among the Hungarian and foreign varieties tested by the National Institute for Agricultural Quality Control, those considered by the Hungarian Council for the Registration of Agricultural Varieties to be suitable for registration are granted state registration by the Ministry of Agriculture and Regional Development, for a legally-set period, and are thus authorized for cultivation.

In 2001, there were 11 clover and 13 grass species on the Hungarian List of Varieties (Table 18). Most of the species have only a few varieties (1-5) except for white clover and clover with 10 and 32 varieties, respectively.

Compared to this relatively wide variety assortment, grass seed production is very limited in the country. Grass seed producing area under inspection (including turf grass seed production) for 2000 was only 8213.8 ha. From this area 2286.8 ha produced grass seeds of domestic varieties for forage production. 10 grass species were represented in seed production for forages (Table 19).

Table 18. Species and cultivars on offer for forage production in Hungary

Botanical name

Common name

No. of cultivars

Preferable uses

Medicago sativa clover/lucerne

32

arable
Trifolium pratense red clover diploid

3

arable
  red clover tetraploid

3

arable
Onobrychis viciifolia sainfoin

2

arable
Lotus corniculatus foxtail trefoil

5

grassland/arable
Coronilla varia crown vetch

2

arable
Trigonella foenum-graecum fenugreek

1

arable
Trifolium repens white clover

10

grassland
Melilotus alba Sweet clover

1

arable
Trifolium alexandrinum Egyptian clover

3

grassland
Trifolium incarnatum Crimson clover

2

arable/grassland
Trifolium resupinatum Persian clover

2

arable
Clovers in total  

66

 
Lolium perenne Perennial ryegrass

5

grassland
Lolium multiflorum Italian ryegrass

2

arable
Poa pratensis Kentucky bluegrass

2

grassland
Festuca pratensis Meadow fescue

2

grassland
Festuca arundinacea Tall fescue

3

grassland
Festuca rubra Red fescue

3

grassland
Dactylis glomerata Cocksfoot

3

grassland
Bromus hungaricus Hungarian bromegrass

2

grassland
Phleum pratense Timothy

5

grassland/arable
Agrostis stolonifera White top

1

grassland
Agrostis gigantea Red top

1

grassland
Phalaris arundinacea Reed canarygrass

2

grassland/arable
Agropyron cristatum Crested wheat-grass

1

grassland/arable
Grasses in total  

32

 
Clovers and grasses together

98

 

Source: NIAQC (2001)

Table 19. Seed production of forage domestic grass varieties under national control

Botanical name

Common name

hectares

Lolium perenne Perennial ryegrass

404

Festuca pratensis Meadow fescue

171

Festuca arundinacea Tall fescue

192

Festuca rubra Red fescue

1249.9

Bromus inermis Smooth bromegrass

89

Agrostis gigantea Red top

28

Dactylis glomerata Orchard grass

91.4

Phleum pratense Timothy grass

7.5

Phalaris arundinacea Reed canarygrass

45

Agropyron cristatum Crested wheat-grass

9

Total  

2286.8

Grasslands and nature conservation

It has been shown in the previous section that, on average, 42 plant species exist in native grasslands. This demonstrates species richness, diversity and the high conservation value of semi-natural grasslands. This is the reason grasslands play a very important role on nature-protected areas. Until recent times, 8 percent of the productive land has been declared protected areas. The land use systems on protected areas are presented in Table 20. It is shown that after forests, grasslands are the second most important land use on protected areas. However, on the most strictly protected areas (national parks, nature-protected lands) the role of grasslands is comparable to that of forests.

Table 20. Land use systems on nature-protected areas (ha)

Protected areas

Cropland

Grassland

Forest

Other

Total

National Parks

14.304

66.247

63.858

33.629

177.738

Landscape protected areas

68.362

94.567

252.592

51.132

466.653

Nature protected lands

2.451

7.526

11.028

5.225

26.230

Total ha

85.127

168.340

327.178

89.986

670.621

percent

12.7

25.1

48.8

13.5

100

Source: Nagy (1997)

Changeable ecological conditions in the Carpathian Basin have created species-rich ecosystems. Many of these species have become endangered due to human activities (water control, farming technologies, etc.). In the 1990s, 690 species were declared to be endangered, 500 species came under official protection, and 47 species were strictly protected. A large number of these species are present on natural or semi-natural Hungarian grasslands (Nagy and Vinczeffy, 1993; Láng, 1995). All these facts underline the role of grasslands, as land use systems, in nature conservation policies.


6. OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT OF FODDER RESOURCES

Table 21. Distribution of quality of grass hay produced in Hungary over recent five-year periods.

Periods

Good percent

Medium percent

Moderate percent

Poor percent

1992-96

14

33

36

17

1997-99

-

22

41

37

Source: Várhegyi (2001)

In grazing animal systems provision of a continuous grass allowance throughout the season is of key importance. Under extensive conditions, the growth pattern of grasses has a relatively high peak in May, then a deep decline through mid season and then it may have a slight autumn increase. The growth rate from May onwards is determined by soil moisture which is not predictable due to the changeable climate. Under these conditions in Hungary summer feeding cannot safely be based on grazing.

A recent survey of grassland utilization has found that efficiency of forage resource use from grasslands is moderate. Only about two thirds of Hungarian grasslands are utilized at all (Table 22) and, according to scientific estimations, only half of these with any regularity. This indicates the very limited demands of animal feeding for grassland products.

Table 22. Figures of utilized grassland area in Hungary in 1999.

Total grassland area (1000 ha)

1147.3

Utilized area (1000 ha)

704.8

Utilized area in total area (percent)

61.4

Total utilized production* (1000 t)

919.8

Average hay yield per utilized area (t ha-1)

1.3

Average hay yield per total area (t ha-1)

0.8

* expressed in hay equivalent

Source: HCSO (1999)

Socio-economic aspects

Hungarian agriculture is more focused on arable crops (maize, cereals) and monogastric animal production (pigs, poultry) than on forages and ruminant production. For example, in 1996 the contribution of forages to total agricultural output was only 4.3 percent, of which grassland production comprised only 1.2 percent.

Besides the very good ecological conditions for crop production there are some socio-economic reasons why grassland farming was not able to keep pace with the overall development of agriculture:

  • Grasslands cannot produce directly consumable products for humans. The return from inputs on grasslands is through ruminant animal production and is therefore relatively slow.
  • The large dairy units were established mostly far from the grasslands, and so grazing, as the most economical feeding method, became impossible. Where grasslands were close to the dairy farms, the management of grazing for large numbers of animals (minimum of a few hundred cows) was extremely difficult or impossible.
  • The number of ruminant stock has decreased by 40 percent in recent years. At present animal husbandry demands a much smaller forage supply, so there is no need for more grass in the country.

The ownership of grasslands has an influence on grassland management as well. Until the 1990s large farms owned and farmed the grasslands. However, grassland ownership and user categories have been restructured in the last few years. In 1996 the majority of grassland was owned or used by private farmers (Table 23) and about 40 percent by companies or co-operatives. These latter farmed their grasslands as parts of big farms while private farmers farmed grasslands on much smaller farms (Table 24). Smaller and private farmers are more sensitive to the profitability of farming and more flexible in production and utilization methods, and so it is expected that the role of grasslands in forage systems will increase in the future.

Table 23. Distribution of grasslands according to users, 1996.

Users

Area (1000 ha)

Proportion ( percent)

Companies

205.1

17.9

Cooperatives

170.8

14.9

Private farmers

672.4

58.5

Miscellaneous

100.0

8.7

Total

1,148.3

100.0

Source: HCSO (1996)

Table 24. Distribution of grassland users according to size of farm

User and farm size

Proportion ( percent)

Companies and cooperatives  

large (>300 ha)

97.0

medium (30 - 300 ha)

1.3

small (<30 ha)

1.7

Private farmers  

large (> 300 ha)

4.9

medium (30 - 300 ha)

23.1

small (< 30 ha)

72.0

Source: HCSO (1996)

Outlook for grasslands in Hungary

Looking at the present situation, the predictable future agricultural development and the available international experiences and technologies in grassland production and utilization, some changes can be foreseen in grassland management:

Presently, the role of grasslands in Hungarian agriculture is very limited, but it is likely to increase, for several reasons. Private farmers now own the majority of grasslands. They are more sensitive to the profitability of farming, and will probably make better use of grassland by grazing or cutting. Surviving larger farms have lost much of their land due to privatisation. Most lack lands for arable cropping. Through grassland intensification, they may free land from arable forage production for use in cash crop production.

Hungarian agricultural policy plans to remove 800,000 hectares of land from arable use. Up to now, abandoned croplands have not been re-cultivated, and have rather become sites for weed invasion, which threaten cultivated land. In the future, abandoned lands will have to be cultivated. Grasslands can be established and maintained at low cost, and so it is expected that beside afforestation a part of the 800,000 ha of degraded croplands will be converted to grasslands.

If the role of grazing increases in grassland utilization, a switch is necessary from traditional free grazing to rotational grazing. There are two reasons for this change: the shepherd and herdsman generation is aged and there are few incoming young people for this type of work. Free grazing is labour consuming and expensive. For rotational grazing permanent or electric fences will be introduced.

There are national and international research and development programmes to introduce alternative animal production enterprises for grassland utilization. Commercial agriculture may introduce deer, horse, goose, goat, bison, bio-farming or game farming enterprises etc. for better grassland utilization. These are not only new challenges for grassland research and development, but they may diversify the traditional landscape in some areas. Such new technologies will need good technical support in the early years.

The extension centres for future developments in grassland science will be the agricultural higher education and research institutions. From western to eastern Hungary some of these institutions have special involvement in particular research and development programmes: at Mosonmagyaróvár forage quality and alternative forage crops; at Keszthely breeding and seed production of grassland plants; at Kaposvár forage quality and alternative farm animals; at Gödöllo, weed control, grass palatability and animal selection; at Gyöngyös grassland renovation; at Debrecen grassland ecology and renovation and grazing; at Szarvas grass breeding, and at Hódmezovásárhely forage conservation.


7. RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT ORGANIZATIONS AND PERSONNEL

There are only a few R& D organizations in the country specialized in grassland research. They are mostly university departments, as follows:

  • Szent István Egyetem
  • Department for Grassland Science

    Contact person: Prof. L. Szemán

    E-mail: szeman@fau.gau.hu

    Field: weed control, grassland improvement, sward composition.

  • Kaposvári Egyetem
  • Department for Botany

    Contact person: Prof. F. Dér

    E-mail: advkap@matavnet.hu

    Field: forage quality, animal production from grass, alternative animals for grasslands.

  • Debreceni Egyetem
  • Agricultural Centre

    Department for Rural Development

    Contact person: Prof. G. Nagy

    E-mail: nagyg@helios.date.hu

    Field: grasslands as land use systems, animal production from grass, improvement, ecology.

  • Veszprémi Egyetem
  • Department for Plant Breeding

    Contact person: Prof. K. Ivány

    Tel.: 36 83/311-290

    Field: grass breeding, seed multiplication and production.

  • Nyugat-Magyarországi Egyetem
  • Department for Crop Production

    Contact person: Prof. S. Makai

    E-mail: makais@movar.pate.hu

    Field: forage quality, chemical composition of plants, medicinal plants.

  • Mg. Kutató-Fejleszto Kht
  • Agricultural Research and Development Institute P.U.C.

    Contact person: Prof. J. Janowszky

    E-mail: mkf-kht@szarvas.hu

    Field: grass breeding, seed multiplication and production.


    8. REFERENCES

    Climate Atlas of Hungary, 1968. Akadémia Kiadó, Budapest, pp. 1-263.

    HCSO 1993. Hungarian Central Statistical Office. Statistical data for agriculture and food industry, Budapest

    HCSO, 1996. Hungarian Central Statistical Office. Statistical data for agriculture and food industry, Budapest

    HCSO, 1999.Hungarian Central Statistical Office. Statistical data for agriculture and food industry, Budapest

    HCSO, 2000. Hungarian Central Statistical Office. Agriculture in Hungary, 2000. Budapest.

    Láng, I. 1995. The relationship of grassland and environment. Grassland Management Meeting at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Debrecen Agricultural University Publication, pp. 27-28. (in Hungarian).

    Láng, I., L. Csete and Zs. Harnos, 1983. The agro-ecopotential of the Hungarian Agriculture at the turn of 2000. Mezogazdasági Kiadó, Budapest, pp. 1-266. (in Hungarian).

    Nagy, G. 1984. The effect on grass yield of applying N-fertilizers at various dates during the Spring, The impact of climate on grass production and quality, Proceedings of 10th General Meeting of European Grassland Federation, As, Norway, pp. 130-134.

    Nagy, G. 1988. Intensification of natural grasslands on heavy soils by subsoiling and overseeding, PhD thesis, Agricultural University of Debrecen, pp. 1-129. (in Hungarian).

    Nagy, G. 1997. The role of grasslands in rural development, Debrecen Agricultural University Publication, Debrecen, pp195-198. (in Hungarian).

    Nagy, G. and I. Vinczeffy, 1993. Benefits from grasslands, Natural animal production, Debrecen Agricultural University Publication, Debrecen, pp. 197-210. (in Hungarian).

    Nagy, G. and I. Vinczeffy, 1995. Yield potential of Hungarian grasslands, Scientific Publications of the Agricultural University of Debrecen, Vol. 31., pp. 275-284. (in Hungarian).

    Nagy, G. and K. Peto, 1995. Grassland management and rural development, Grassland Management Meeting at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Debrecen Agricultural University Publication, Debrecen, pp. 29-34. (in Hungarian)

    Nagy, G. and K. Peto, 1997. Grassland Management and rural development, From Sustainable Agriculture to Rural Development, Proceedings of IV. Village Conference, Pécs, Hungary, pp. 141-146. (in Hungarian).

    Nagy, G. and K. Peto, 1998. Grasslands and sheep production in Hungary. Sheep and goat production in Central and Eastern European countries, Rue Technical Series 50, FAO Rome, pp. 289-299.
    [FAO Website reference]

    Nagy, I. 1979. Water use efficiency of established grasslands, PhD thesis, Irrigation Research Institute, Szarvas, pp. 1-143. (in Hungarian).

    NIAQC 2001. National Institute for Agricultural Quality Control, National list of varieties. 2001. Budapest.

    Varhegyi, J. 2001. Changes in forage quality, Holstein Magazin, Budapest, IX. No. 1. pp. 25-26.

    Vinczeffy, I. 1985. Animal holding capacity of grasslands, D.Sc. Thesis, Debrecen Agricultural University, pp. 1-98. (in Hungarian).

    Vinczeffy, I. 1993. Grassland types, in Pasture and grazingmanagement (ed. Vinczeffy, I.) Mezogazda Kiadó, Budapest, pp. 1-400.

    Vinczeffy, I. 1997. Animal systems for nature and environment protection, Study for the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Debrecen Agricultural University, pp. 1-23. (Manuscript, in Hungarian).


    9. CONTACTS

    The profile was compiled in June 2001, by Geza Nagy, who has been doing grassland research and lecturing since 1975. His main fields of interest include: ecology, improvement and renovation (PhD), animal production from grass.

    Address: Debrecen University, Agricultural Centre

    H-4036, Debrecen, POB 36. Hungary

    E-mail: nagyg@helios.date.hu

    [The profile was edited by J.M. Suttie and S.G. Reynolds in July 2001 and modified by S.G. Reynolds in October 2006]