This research conference of the Lowland Grasslands Subnetwork of the Interregional Pastures and Fodder Crops Network of the European System of Cooperative Research Networks in Agriculture (ESCORENA) was held in La Coruña, Galícia, Spain from 13 to 16 October 1998. The meeting proved a great success with papers presented in Plenary and Poster Sessions, and with workshops in which the objectives were to gain participation by all and discussion of issues rather than only presentation of data.
The meeting was opened by José Mariano Pérez Fernández (Director General of Rural Development), followed by the first Plenary paper 'Grasslands in Galicia'. In their paper Juan Piñeiro and Antonio Gonzàlez Rodríguez demonstrated to the conference the variety of grassland types in the region and the opportunity for development that exists for grasslands within the regional farming systems.
The second plenary session 'Grasslands and the Development of Sustainability' and the accompanying poster session and workshop created much debate on issues of organic farming, integrated farming and where the future of 'sustainability' might be for grassland systems. Ton Baars and David Younie provided a thoughtful overview of the issues, while the posters explored the specifics. Anjo Elgersma facilitated the workshop, which highlighted the need for specific and stated definitions and objectives for research activity in this area.
The third plenary session and accompanying poster session 'Persistency of White Clover' was lead by Rosemary Collins. The latest developments in breeding for cold and drought tolerance were communicated and, in particular, the posters demonstrated the need for regional development in order to derive cultivars that are relevant to local farming systems. The related workshop 'Plant Breeding and Seed Production' was facilitated by Aslaug Helgadottir and broadly echoed the plenary and poster sessions, highlighting the regional efforts that exist with some diverse and some common goals. In many countries, developing seed production systems that yield sufficient quantity of material for affordable seed to be available to the farming community is a challenge, while in others, the development of cultivars for specific purposes is more advanced.
The fourth plenary session discussed the relatively new area of 'Inter-cropping and Bi-cropping with White Clover'. The paper prepared by Göran Bergkvist and Bob Clements presented the latest data and thinking. The potential for such practice in integrated and organic farming systems is very wide and the paper added greatly to the general knowledge for practical on farm application of the technology. The fifth and last plenary session on 'Nutritional Value of Secondary Grass Species and Forbs' presented by George Fisher and Miriam Pinto and an accompanying poster session added further to this thought. There is much existing and new data that can be developed to assist low input systems and the emergence of inter-cropping, bi-cropping and secondary species as common management tools in such systems can be envisaged. There is, however, a need to develop basic research ideas in the context of whole farm systems in order that they are taken into common practice.
Wildlife conservation, the socio-economic context of lowland grassland farming and the successful transfer of research technology are themes of increasing importance to the sub-network. This was apparent in the response to a questionnaire that was circulated as part of the planning process for the conference. To enable the development of these themes for the group, workshop sessions were convened on the subjects of 'Wildlife conservation and Habitat Re-creation' (facilitated by Carol Marriott), 'Systems Development and Technology Transfer' (facilitated by Ton Baars) and 'Socio-economics of Lowland Grassland Farming'. These proved useful explorations of the topics and highlighted again the need for firm objectives. They also placed emphasis on the role of research and development in the carrying of new ideas through from initiation to application in practice. The sessions also stressed the increasing importance for research to be conducted in the context of socio-economic conditions and environmental conservation, even if these were not the primary objectives of the work. In this way, there is a better chance of effective technology transfer as the work comes from a base understanding of the needs of the communities to which it is addressed.
The recent history of this sub-network is in the field of white clover research. The group has in the past and continues through now into the future to conduct work of the highest quality in this area. A poster session on 'Clover and Grass' and a workshop on 'Ecophysiology of Grassland Species' (facilitated by Bodil Frankow-Lindberg) continued the tradition. Many of the research workers who in the past concentrated on white clover, are now being expected to add other species and issues to their research portfolios. It is clear that the excellence in activity in white clover is thus being spread. The issue of white clover itself and developments in ecophysiology are the subjects of major European research efforts involving the transfer of appropriate technologies. The group had a chance to be introduced to and become acquainted with these.
With an excellent cultural excursion to Santiago De Compostella (where the conference was blessed in the famous cathedral of St. James) and visits to local dairy farms (and Leyma company) and the research facilities at CIAM Mabegondo, this proved to be an enjoyable and useful reunion. The conference was closed by Castor Gago Álvarez, (Conselleiro de Agricultura Ganderia e Política Agroalimentaria) amongst much interest from the local TV station.
Our grateful appreciation goes to the local organising committee of Miguel Cabrero Poveda (Director, CIAM), Juan Piñeiro Andión (CIAM), Antonio Gonzàlez Rodríguez (CIAM), Carlos Gómez-Ibarlucea Sempere (CIAM) and Cesar Resch Zafra (Leyma). The meeting was generously sponsored by Grupo Leyma, Concello de Abegondo, Caixa Galicia and Sementes De Galicia.