Better use of grassland could save UK Agriculture over £1.6bn each year.
That was the message being delivered at Westminster by Dr Sinclair Mayne, CEO of AFBI, Northern Ireland’s Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute.
Dr Mayne was at Westminster presenting to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Science and Technology in Agriculture.
Dr Mayne commented: “A renewed focus on grassland management and the use of new technologies can significantly improve farm profitability whilst reducing nutrient loss to the environment and enhancing carbon sequestration from grassland.”
Whilst grasslands account for around 70% of agricultural land in the UK, it is widely accepted that the full potential of grassland is rarely achieved in farming practice on the majority of UK livestock farms.
Consumers also have a strong preference for livestock production from grass-based systems relative to animals being housed indoors year round and milk and meat produced from grass-based systems also has enhanced levels of poly unsaturated fatty acids in comparison to that produced from indoor systems.
Permanent grasslands also deliver a wide range of ecosystem services including flood mitigation.
Some of the significant constraints on grassland production include the current under use of lime, the under and over application of potash and phosphorus fertilizer and the underuse of sulphur. This is in part due to under investment in soil analysis with only 5% of UK grasslands analysed every year.
Northern Ireland has a distinct advantage relative to the rest of the UK through tools such as Grass Check (co-funded by AgriSearch and DAERA) which co-ordinates measurement of grass growth at farm level and includes accurate prediction of grass growth over a seven to 14 day period, which assists farmers in grass budgeting.
Dr Mayne concluded: “The UK’s exit from the European Union provides an excellent opportunity to develop policies which refocus attention on the productive potential of our greatest national resource – grassland, whilst enhancing the UK’s natural capital, improving farm profitability and achieving wider environmental benefits.”