In mountain areas, grass is the major component of the diet of ruminants. The quality of the pasture plays a direct role on the animal production. The downside of it is that usual grasses present in pastures require high nitrogen inputs and lack protein for the animals. Grass-fed animals give in result a lower production.
Growing permanent pastures give the opportunity to mix on a long term basis multi-species and multi-variety mixtures to respond to the variability of local soil and climate conditions. The plants species belonging to the legumes (Fabaceae) can bring nitrogen in the crop system and so they can increase the productivity at low cost. Indeed, legumes have the ability to be in symbiosis with Rhizobium, bacteria that can fix the atmospheric nitrogen. Permanent pastures increase the soil structure, controlling erosion and increasing the water-holding capacity and allow producing meat and milk of high quality. For those reasons, permanent pastures can significantly contribute to improving animal production.
David Crespo, a former farmer, researcher at Plant Improvement Station (INIA) in Elvas (Portugal) and FAO consultant developed the concepts of Biodiverse Permanent Pastures Rich in Legumes (BPPRL) and Biodiverse Fodder Crops Rich in Legumes (BFCRL). He put the theory into practice in his own farm in Vaiamonte, Portugal. From the first paddock of 42 ha, he has now an area of 264 ha of rain-fed BPPRL and 80 ha of BFCRL partially under irrigation. From the original 300 merino ewes, today the farm counts 2200 Asaf milking ewes. The lands under BPPRL have a soil which is four times richer in terms of soil organic matter.
The report “Understanding Mountain Soils” from the FAO shows also some concrete examples on how permanent pasture and crop diversity can increase land productivity in mountain areas (more information about the report here).
If you want to know more about this initiative, click here.27 September 2015