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Pasture-based dairy systems in temperate lowlands: challenges and opportunities for the future

Abstract : Improved efficiency in dairy systems is a significant challenge for the future, to meet increased food demand while competing for inputs, adapting to climate change, and delivering ecosystem services. Future grazing systems can play a major role to supply healthier foods within systems with a reduced reliance on fossil fuels and chemical inputs, while also delivering environmental, biodiversity, and animal welfare benefits. Can we design lower-input systems that deliver efficient levels of output in a positive environmental context? Lower-input systems will have a lower reliance on concentrates and inorganic fertilizers, and an increased reliance on extended grazing seasons and high quality forage. Multiple strategies will be needed to maximize nitrogen use efficiency, including a strong reliance on legume-based swards that displace inorganic nitrogen fertilizer. Expected environmental benefits include a reduction in GHG emissions and nitrate leaching, an increase in C sequestration and a reduced reliance on the use of herbicides and pesticides. In comparison with confinement feeding systems, the relatively low energy density and high climate sensitivity of grazing diets requires both effective pasture management and robust and adaptive animals. The appropriate cow for grazing systems must be able to harvest pasture efficiently by re-calving every 365 days to efficiently utilize peak pasture supply, achieve large intakes of forage relative to their genetic potential for milk production (i.e., aggressive grazers) and be adaptable to fluctuations in feed supply. Legume-based multi-species grassland mixtures can maximize the use of symbiotically-fixed nitrogen, and displace the use of inorganic N fertilizer. There is a need for system-scale experiments that use legume-based mixtures within paddocks, and in grassland leys within crop rotations. Moreover, lower-input systems will need a combined focus on research and knowledge transfer for rapid testing and implementation. New opportunities and requirements will arise as policy, society, and the markets demand a higher level of environmental sustainability from food systems and products. This raises the possibility of public-private partnerships for the demand and reward of provision of environmental benefits. To deliver these benefits, future food systems will need to be redesigned to incorporate the enhanced supply of a range of ecosystem goods and services, which should be better incentivized through the market price returned to producers.
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Contributor : Emilie Bernard <>
Submitted on : Monday, January 4, 2021 - 2:26:01 PM
Last modification on : Friday, March 19, 2021 - 12:38:17 PM


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Luc Delaby, John Finn, Guylain Grange, Brendan Horan. Pasture-based dairy systems in temperate lowlands: challenges and opportunities for the future. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, Frontiers Media, 2020, 4, ⟨10.3389/fsufs.2020.543587⟩. ⟨hal-03094852⟩



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