Project to make more of grass while staying green

A new farm-scale research project has been launched to help farmers maximise grass productivity with minimum environmental impact.

Funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the study is being run by Rothamsted Research at North Wyke, Devon, and will compare three different livestock farming systems. The first will be run as intensive grass production using inorganic fertiliser, the second will feature increased use of legumes to fix nitrogen, with the third using a regular reseeding programme with different grass varieties.

“We’re looking at how the different treatments affect livestock yield and influence the environment,” said Dr Phil Murray (pictured), head of the Farm Platform research. “It is particularly exciting because it’s not about pure research – it will have important practical applications for farmers.”

The institute has created three 20-25ha farmlets, each with five hydrologically isolated catchments so that all the drainage water can be separately collected and analysed. Each farmlet will be run as a complete farm, with suckler cows and sheep grazed during the summer, fed their own silage during the winter, and the resulting manure spread back onto the same unit. The soil will be analysed and all farmlets will start from the same base point, with rainfall recorded in each field. Inputs and costs will all be measured, as will grass yield and quality, liveweight gain of the stock and their finishing times and weights.

“There will be a lot of data for modelling, including carbon turnover and sequestration, and we can provide a research platform for other people to do their own research projects,” said Dr Murray. “We’re really excited about what the Farm Platform will be able to offer the agricultural community – we will be able to offer advice based on research that has been road-tested in a real farm environment.”

Professor Douglas Kell, chief executive of BBSRC, said that sustainably increasing agricultural production was a key challenge which farmers would not be able to meet without the help of scientific research. “The launch of the Farm Platform is an exciting development because it will allow us to bridge the gap between the lab and the farm to a greater extent than ever before.”

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