• Requirements of future grass-based ruminant production systems in Ireland

      O'Donovan, Michael; Lewis, Eva; O'Kiely, Padraig (Teagasc (Agriculture and Food Development Authority), Ireland, 2011)
      There is a renewed interest in grazing systems in many temperate and subtropical regions of the world. This results from lower inflation-adjusted prices, the proposed removal of some subsidies and tariffs, and rising labour, machinery and housing costs. The utilization of grass by grazing should provide the basis of sustainable livestock systems as grazed grass is the cheapest source of nutrients for ruminants. This is very important in the Irish context as there are approximately 130 000 farmers involved in primary production in Ireland and the value of the goods produced was €5.8 billion in 2008. For the future, the key objective for grazing systems is to ensure high grass utilization, allowing increased output per hectare for all sectors. The primary emphasis in grass breeding needs to be focused on (i) seasonal growth pattern as well as overall annual growth, (ii) nutritive value, including digestibility, particularly in the mid-season period, (iii) ensuring a sward canopy structure that is suitable for grazing, and (iv) development of persistent cultivars that perform under farm conditions. Evaluation programmes should also consider including an estimate of production potential at the field as well as at plot level, and evaluation under grazing management systems as well as under mixed grazing/silage management systems. It is difficult to accurately quantify the breeding achievements for grass mainly because its value, whether grazed or conserved, must be indirectly realised through the output of animal product. Grass evaluation and breeding need to better accommodate the requirements of the grazing ruminant. This will necessitate the application of new approaches and knowledge, which will ultimately enable further increases in animal output per hectare to be achieved.