On November 25th, 2019, we held the Graze Debate in Perth. 110 people attended to hear from scientists, farmers and advisors discuss the best grazing methods for profitability and long term farm sustainability.
Three key themes emerged:
Diversity: ‘focus on increasing biodiversity on farm and the rest will look after itself’ Christine Watson, SRUC, when asked which environmental factor to prioritise, this statement was reinforced with the work from the SmartGrass project, presented by Tommy Boland, University College Dublin. Tommy showed how swards with six species led to greater lamb performance, reduced nitrous oxide emissions, reduced wormer treatments, increased earthworm abundance and increased invertebrates compared to perennial ryegrass swards. Mike Evans, University Of Edinburgh, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, then mentioned the value of dung beetles, they break up dung pats, exposing worm larvae to drying out so fewer survive to infect livestock. Biodiversity is king!
L-R Jamie Leslie, Charlie Walker, Poppy Frater, Jack Keeys (photo credit: Ewan Pate)
- Soil Carbon: Christine Watson alluded to the lack of evidence with regards to soil carbon and grazing practises. Limited research showed that increased management intensity (fertiliser use, lime and stocking density) reduced soil carbon stocks and some evidence shows grazing reduces soil carbon, HOWEVER this work was not specific to Scotland and not specific to any grazing practise. She did show how carbon storage potential decreases as soil carbon levels increase, i.e. there is less opportunity to store more soil carbon in soils that have high levels of carbon already. Converting arable land to grassland or incorporating grass lays into arable rotations will support greater carbon sequestration. Livestock will have a valuable role to play in offsetting carbon emissions but we must protect our soil carbon too.
- Grass utilisation: The four farmer presenters, Rob Havard, Graham Lofthouse, Charley Walker and Jamie Leslie, showed how they were using paddock grazing and/or holistic grazing to improve farm profitability and sustainability. Graham was an advocate of maximising the duration the grass plant remains green and vegetative by applying sufficient grazing pressure early on in the season to delay the heading of the plant – this encourages it to produce more green leaf thereby maximising his liveweight production per hectare. Conversely, Rob discussed how his cattle are fed only grass outdoors year round, therefore although he applied high grazing pressure similarly to Graham, he left much longer rest periods to build the soil organic matter and improve the soil structure for the winter grazing. We concluded that the best approach depends on your business. Jamie Leslie and Charley Walker use elements from both grazing management approaches for animal performance and low wintering costs.
So the debate really provided a demonstration of the multitude of approaches to grazing and forage management for better farm businesses. It was really about maximum sustainable profit – how does your day to day management influence farm performance now and into the future.
Session 1: Topical science
Session 2: Rotational grazing systems in action
We put some questions to the Audience, see how they responded here: The Graze Debate 2019 Audience insight
Session 3: Optimising Farm systems
SAC Consulting are launching a new service, GrazeUp. In this video hear from two farmers that have benefited from SAC Consulting using Farmax software to help improve their businesses. More information on Farmax available here: www.farmax.co.nz. Contact Poppy Frater for more information on GrazeUp.