On Target!; Pan-European Research Project to Deliver Improved Forage Grasses for Dairy Farmers
NEW forage grasses with significantly improved nitrogen use efficiency and feeding value will be the result of a pioneering research programme, partly funded by the European Commission, that it now underway through a consortium of organisations in the United Kingdom, Holland, Belgium and Germany.
Advanced techniques in the fields of plant physiology, animal nutrition and molecular biology are being integrated within the four-year European Union-funded NIMGRASS project, which aims to focus and accelerate ryegrass breeding in directions that have previously proved too expensive and impractical.
The project has a long-term goal of hastening the availability of grasses with the potential to produce the same amount of milk or meat at lower cost, and with less pollution, so helping to establish a more competitive and sustainable EU dairy farming industry.
As the project completes its third year, reports from the institutes involved confirm that work is on schedule and that close co-operation between the partners is proving effective and productive.
"This is an ambitious project, set up to address the very significant problem of nitrogen wastage that occurs in European dairy farming in particular," explains Dr Mervyn Humphreys, head of plant breeding at one of the participating research bodies, the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research.
"Only 15-20 per cent of nitrogen inputs (in fertiliser and feed) are ultimately converted into milk or meat. The remainder is returned as waste to the environment where it may be lost as leaches nitrates in ground or surface water, or ammonia in the atmosphere. This has major implications in terms of environmental pollution, but is also a significant issue in terms of farm profitability.
"An estimated 30 per cent of agricultural gross income in Europe comes from grassland, and this a key area where improvement in nitrogen use efficiency can be made - both in terms of the plant's utilisation and the digestibility of the forage in the animal.
"Only through the combined skills and resources of a consortium of very different organisations can unprecedented progress be made in these areas, and that is why the NIMGRASS project has come about. …