This issue of the Irish Journal of Agricultural and Food Research is devoted to some of the plenary papers from the proceedings of the 27th European Grassland Federation General Meeting, entitled ‘Sustainable Milk and Meat Production from Grasslands’. The conference was organised by Teagasc and held in Cork, Ireland from 17th to 21st June 2018. The conference had six session themes: 1. Resilient plants for grass based ruminant production systems, adapting grassland systems to the dynamics of climate and resource availability; 2. Appropriate livestock for grasslands, key characteristics of animals adapted to and suitable for grasslands; 3. Environmental influences on grassland systems – consequences of climate change, mitigation strategies, and impacts on ecosystems; 4. Social and economic impacts of grass based ruminant production; 5. Big data and smart technologies in grassland; and 6. Knowledge transfer to stakeholders. All of the papers in this issue have been subjected to peer review and the usual editing process, and therefore may differ slightly from the plenary paper presented at the conference.

Recent Submissions

  • Characteristics of robust animals for grass-based production systems

    Delaby, Luc; Buckley, Frank; McHugh, Noirin; Blanc, F. (Teagasc, 2021-12-21)
    A characterisation of dairy, beef and sheep breeds and/or strains best suited to profitable/sustainable production within the context of European [semi] intensive pasture-based systems is presented. To deliver optimal performance, pasture must be managed effectively, but pasture-based systems are less energy intensive, are climate sensitive and induce challenges and constraints not normally posed to animals in intensive feeding environments. This emphasises the importance of animal traits associated with robustness and adaptive abilities. A survey of French dairy farmers concluded that a robust cow is an “invisible” cow with a long lifetime. The traits common to both indoor and grazing systems include: efficient converters of feed to human edible products, functionality, being healthy, reproductively fit and exhibiting longevity. Unique to successful grazing is the capability to achieve large intakes of forage to meet productive potential, an ability to adapt to fluctuating feed supply and, in seasonal systems, the ability to conceive and give birth at the appropriate time each year, usually within 365 d. The breed or strain of choice may differ based on local management constraints and objectives; however, general principles apply, and ideally should be guided by a suitable selection index combining all of the economically important traits appropriate to the local conditions and systems.
  • Towards sustainable European grassland farming with Inno4Grass: an infrastructure for innovation and knowledge sharing

    Krause, A.; Becker, T.; Feindt, P.H.; Huyghe, C.; Van den Pol-van Dasselaar, A.; O'Donovan, Michael; European Union; 727368-INNO4GRASS (Teagasc, 2021-12-14)
    European agriculture is facing tremendous challenges related to the rapid decrease in farm populations, competitiveness on open markets and the preservation of natural resources. Grasslands, which are highly significant for nature conservation often face land-use competition with arable cropping, urbanisation and other uses. Farmers need dedicated innovations to improve the economic performance of grasslands and their effective implementation in practice. This requires co-creation of knowledge between researchers and farmland practitioners, as was broadly pointed out by the European Commission. This paper describes a novel approach for creating a collaborative space for grassland innovations contributing to profitability of European grassland farms while preserving environmental benefits. Innovative modes of collaboration between practice and science are enabled by an international thematic network across eight European member states. A methodology that serves to collect farmers’ innovative ideas and to stimulate collaboration among various stakeholders (farmers’ groups, extension services, education and research) including cross-border collaborations, where grassland-related knowledge is made available for local conditions. This interactive innovation model fosters knowledge exchange and establishes a farmland-specific information management system. The aim is to stimulate a renewed, collaborative innovation culture for European Union (EU) grasslands. The methods are conceptualised and put into practice by the thematic network project Inno4Grass funded under Horizon 2020.
  • Societal and economic options to support grassland-based dairy production in Europe

    Van den Pol-van Dasselaar, A.; Becker, T.; Botana Fernández, A.; Peratoner, G. (Teagasc, 2021-06-04)
    Grassland-based dairy production provides multiple benefits to farmers and to the wider society, but the European grassland area has been significantly reduced during the last decades. This paper aims to explore societal and economic options to support grassland-based dairy production in Europe. In the recent past, several societal initiatives have emerged to stimulate grassland-based dairy production: treaties, premiums and market concepts. When developing stimulating initiatives, the mindset of the farmer should be taken into account. Farmers are key actors when it comes to maintaining and improving grassland-based dairy production systems since they decide on the day-to-day management of the farm. To maintain grassland-based dairy production and to preserve the associated ecosystem services, it is, therefore, necessary to clearly show the importance of this production system for society to the farmers (show the customer perspective) and to support this by valuing the products from these systems accordingly. “New” business models should financially reward farmers for their added value contributions in delivering ecosystem services.
  • A review of precision technologies in pasture-based dairying systems

    Shalloo, Laurence; Byrne, T.; Leso, L.; Ruelle, Elodie; Starsmore, K.; Geoghegan, A.; Werner, J.; O’Leary, N. (Teagasc, 2021-02-02)
    The promised benefits of precision technologies (PTs) include improved efficiency, quality, animal health and welfare and reduced environmental impacts. To date, PTs (including sensors, algorithms, big data, decisionsupport tools, etc.) have had a relatively modest impact in pasture-based dairying systems in comparison with other agricultural sectors such as arable production. The areas animals roam and graze in pasture-based systems and the associated connectivity challenges may, in part at least, explain the comparatively reduced use of PTs in those systems. Thus, there are very few technologies designed specifically to increase pasture utilisation with the exception of global positioning systems (GPS) and Bluetooth-enabled Plate Meters. Terrestrial and satellitebased spectral analysis of pasture biomass and quality is still in the development phase. Therefore, one of the key drivers of efficiency in pasture-based systems has only been marginally impacted by PTs. In contrast, technological development in the area of fertility and heat detection has been important and offers significant potential value to dairy farmers. In general PTs can be described as good at measurement, data collection and storage but fall down around interpretation and providing useful outputs to end users. As a result, it is unclear if farm management is being sufficiently improved to justify widespread adoption of PTs. A needs-driven development of PTs and decisionsupport tools are required for the succesful integration within agriculture. Further cost/benefit analysis is also required to determine the efficiency of investing in PTs and what, if any, factors affect the variation in the returns.
  • Influence of pasture feeding on milk and meat products in terms of human health and product quality

    STANTON, CATHERINE; Mills, S.; Ryan, A.; Di Gioia, D.; Ross, R. Paul (Teagasc, 2021-02-02)
    Cows are fed either indoors on a diet of mixed ration or in areas with temperate climates, such as Ireland and New Zealand, the feeding regime of dairy and beef herds is almost entirely pasture-based. Animal feeding regimes and herd management practices are linked to differences in organoleptic and nutritional quality attributes of milk, dairy and meat/beef products, with pasture-based feeding systems being associated with superior quality produce. Consumers generally perceive that milk and meat products produced from outdoor grazing pastures are “healthier” than produce derived from indoor feeding systems, based on animals fed typical indoor rations and concentrates. However, while research has demonstrated differences in milk and meat quality, especially in terms of fatty acids, based on different feeding systems, data are limited on the impact of dairy and meat products produced from different feeding systems on human health.
  • Opportunities and challenges for breeding perennial ryegrass cultivars with improved livestock production potential

    Gilliland, T.J.; Ball, T.; Hennessy, Deirdre (Teagasc, 2021-01-30)
    This review addresses key factors and impediments that govern the efficient transfer of nutrient energy from primary producing grassland to ruminant milk and meat. The review focuses on permanent improved grasslands, defined as “swards maintained at a high production potential by grass-to-grass renewal”, frequently of a 5- to 10-yr longevity. Breeding progress to date is examined as are the primary objectives for the next generation of cultivars. This involves aligning grass productivity to ruminant demand in three primary aspects, namely intake potential, nutritional value and productivity profile. The opportunity to selectively improve plant traits affecting sward structure, chemical composition, seasonality and ability to persist and perform under farm conditions is evaluated. The EU context involves appraising the impact of variables such as grass species and cultivar, regional abiotic stresses (water, temperature, nutrients, soil type, etc.), biotic stresses from disease and pests, regional diversity in sward management strategies, and the opportunity to minimise the environmental footprint of ruminant farming.
  • Ruminant grassland production systems in Ireland

    O'Donovan, Michael; Hennessy, Deirdre; Creighton, Philip (Teagasc, 2021-01-12)
    In Ireland grazing systems provide the basis of sustainable livestock production, as grazed grass is the cheapest feed source of nutrients for ruminants. The main future objective for these systems is to achieve high grass utilisation, ensure system sustainability and maintain extremely high animal health and welfare. There is no reason why all three cannot be combined. Ireland’s national farm policy targets growth in exports to €19 billion per annum by 2025. This figure represents an 85% increase from the current 3 yr average. There are major improvements required in the areas of grassland management and its conversion into milk and meat to fulfil such a target. While every farm situation is unique due to varying soil types, climatic conditions, stocking rates and management capabilities, herbage production and utilisation is below optimum on most farms. Irish farms, especially dairy farms, are expanding and will continue to do so over the next number of years. Increasing stocking rates and more compact calving and lambing has resulted in increased spring feed demand. Extra grass needs be grown and utilised in this period to minimise the use of supplementary feed. This paper outlines the importance of grassland on Irish farms, and where farms can improve grassland management, to increase output, lower farm costs and improve further farm system sustainability.