Investigating the efficacy of perennial ryegrass-red clover silage for Irish animal production systems
Despite the positive effect of nitrogen (N) fertilizer use on agriculture production, the poor efficiency with which N is utilized is well documented. Farm gate N balance and N use efficiency (NUE) are the two most widely used indicators of N efficiency in pasture-based systems. European Union policy such as the Water Framework Directive and the Nitrate Directive have increased the focus on NUE. Furthermore, the European Green Deal and Farm to Fork Strategy have set a target to reduce nutrient losses to the environment by at least 50% by 2030. This project will contribute towards achieving this objective by incorporating the biological N fixation (BNF) capability of the leguminous plant, red clover (Trifolium pratense L.; RC), into the silage production practices of pasture-based farms. The sustainability of this agroecological food system will be investigated by a transdisciplinary team of researchers (i.e. agronomic, animal, food and environmental scientists). REDCLOVER will also utilize a multi-actor research approach by involving primary producers and the wider agricultural industry. The information generated will be available to beef, dairy and tillage farmers, plant breeders, feed manufactures, farm advisers and policy makers to reduce the impact of pasture-based systems on the natural environment.
Overall Project Objective(s)
The primary objective of this collaborative project is to reduce the reliance of pasture-based systems on chemical N and imported feed N by:
- Reducing the requirement for chemical N application by using RC in silage swards to biologically fix N
- Evaluating new RC cultivars for DM yield, persistency and nutritional value as well as the interactions with seeding rate/method, cutting/grazing height and fertilizer application rate
- Quantifying the beef and milk production efficiency and environmental footprint of PRG-RC silage-based diets compared with PRG silage-based diets
- Evaluating low N concentrate supplements to increase NUE of silage-fed ruminants
REDCLOVER is designed to increase the sustainability of Ireland’s distinctive food system by incorporating legumes into the currently chemical N intensive silage making practices on beef and dairy farms. This will help achieve the goals of Food Vision 2030 by increasing the profitability (e.g. reduce reliance on chemical N which can experience high price volatility), increasing the broad-based benefits for society (e.g. lower carbon footprint animal products) and ensuring a positive or neutral impact on the natural environment (e.g. reduced GHG emissions and improved air and water quality) by beef and dairy production systems. REDCLOVER will use cutting-edge peer-reviewed methodology (i.e. N fixation quantification, feed chemistry analysis involving N fractionation and NDF digestibility, quantification of animal production efficiency and nutrient excretion, meat quality analysis, milk protein and fat characterization and environmental footprint modelling) to achieve its goals. The project is designed towards collection of meaningful measurable outcomes, which can subsequently be used to support the achievements of the Ag Climatise Roadmap (DAFM, 2020). Finally, the incorporation of innovative dissemination methods and a multi-actor approach will ensure that REDCLOVER achieves high impact in a transdisciplinary manner.