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International Network in Grazing4AgroEcology

The EU funded project “Grazing4AgroEcology” (G4AE) aims to boost farming grazing through agroecological innovations, the Centre for Grassland (GLZ) and the Georg-August University of Goettingen (UGOE) organised an international Young Farmers Tour from 21st to 22nd of June 2023.

International Network  in Grazing4AgroEcology
45 Young Farmers Who Visited Northern Germany

We got great insight into the different grazing systems and the trip highlighted the importance of maintaining and improving pasture based systems across Europe.

Grazing4AgroEcologyForty five young farmers from 8 European countries gathered in the region of Oldenburg, Germany, to learn and share knowledge about grazing-related topics like Biodiversity, Grassland Management and Virtual Fencing on pastures. Several presentations, workshops, interactive sessions, farm visits and a social event were organised to encourage exchanges and networking between the different nations.

Starting with a farm walk on Syds-Jan Boersma’s pasture-based dairy farm, the group learned about pasture management system. Over the years, the farmer has observed that mid-season, milk production improved when he used targeted management to improve sward quality. Syds-Jan stressed that it’s important to make the farm more resilient, rearing young stock on the farm and keeping the costs low. He has a clear take-home message: “It is better to improve and maintain what you have instead of growing all the time”.

Next station of the tour was Dirk Hanken’s farm, which served as the venue for the Young Farmers Tour. With his scientific approach “Reduction of Greenhouse Gases on peat soils”, Erik Jansen from STOWA & Veenweide Innovatiecentrum, Netherlands, pointed out agricultural possibilities and challenges on peat soils. Caitlin Looney from Teagasc in Ireland, continued with the interactive session “Clover incorporation and benefits”, which provided discussion on methods like reseeding and oversowing. The following workshop “Pastoral Animal Welfare” by Lisa Oehlert from GLZ, Germany, showed the importance of water availability and water quality on pastures. Using a pasture pump, the participants had the chance to simulate the duration and effort it takes for a cow to drink enough water.

Under the topic “Competitiveness and ecological benefits of pasture farms”, the President of the European Grassland Federation, Agnes van den Pol-van Dasselaar, from AERES, Netherlands, started the second day by talking about European grazing, animal welfare, agroecology on pastures, and biodiversity. Martin Komainda and Friederike Riesch (UGOE, Germany) proceeded with a deeper insight of the “Multifunctionality of biodiversity of grazed grasslands”. With focus on the ecosystem, they informed about the effects of swards composition on milk yield and the functions of multispecies swards.

In the interactive “Virtual Fencing” demonstration (UGOE, Germany), the young farmers got the chance to simulate pasture management with the virtual fence system “NoFence”. By using smartphones and collars for livestock, the participants tested the app-based system and its sound signals.

Moving on to the organic dairy farm Butendiek, the international group learned about a hay dryer system that generates high quality hay to improve milk quality. The farm walk also included the demonstration of a slurry hose system that improves infrastructure and reduces soil compaction to protect soil quality. The tour ended with a cheese-tasting in the farmer’s own dairy.

Arthur Sweetman, a dairy farmer from South Co. Wexford, Ireland said:

“It was a thoroughly enjoyable trip. We got great insight into the different grazing systems and the trip highlighted the importance of maintaining and improving pasture based systems across Europe. It was particularly interesting to see the farm diversification in Butendiek.”

“The value of the Young Farmer Network in the G4AE project was highlighted on the tour. Young farmers interacted and gained new skills and information on grazing systems across Europe. This is important for the development and improved resilience of our pasture based dairy systems”, according to Dr. Caitlin Looney, Grassland Resilience Researcher, Teagasc.

The valuable feedback of the young farmers was positive and will help with the organisation of the next G4AE Young Farmers Tour planned in the Netherlands for 2024. If you would like to learn more about the project in Ireland or would like to become involved with the young farmer network please contact Caitlin.Looney@teagasc.ie.

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