Within the EU funded project “Grazing4AgroEcology” (G4AE), the Centre for Grassland (GLZ) and the Georg-August University of Goettingen (UGOE) organized an international Young Farmers Tour from 21st to 22nd of June 2023. 45 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 organized 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 multispecies swards and a pasture management system called “topping”. In this system, the top third of the grass is cut (approx. 12 cm) and left on the pasture for about 12 hours as green fodder. The topping system has proven successful under dry conditions, as feed intake per cow has increased and mature grass is also eaten. Over the years, the farmer has observed that despite heat stress, the milk production remained constant or has even increased with the topping management. Compared with usual grazing management (swards height of max. 10 cm) during droughts, the topping of grass has the advantage of less residuals and less mature grass which can be very susceptible to rust. The farmer stressed that it’s important to make the farm more resilient to crisis, 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 (STOWA & Veenweide Innovatiecentrum, Netherlands) pointed out agricultural possibilities and challenges on peat soils. Caitlin Looney from Teagasc (Ireland) continued with the interactive session “Clover incorporation and benefits”, which included exemplary methods like reseeding and oversowing. The following workshop “Pastoral Animal Welfare” by Lisa Oehlert (GLZ) 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. The first day ended with another farm walk and a social dinner for networking purposes.
Under the topic “Competitiveness and ecological benefits of pasture farms”, the President of the European Grassland Federation Agnes van den Pol-van Dasselaar (AERES, Netherlands) started the second day by talking about European grazing, animal welfare, agroecology on pastures, and biodiversity. Martin Komainda and Friederike Riesch (both UGOE) 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 (by UGOE), 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 as if they were animals passing the virtual fence.
Moving on to the organic dairy farm Butendiek, one of the most innovative grazing farms honored with the Inno4Grass Award, 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.
The valuable feedback of the young farmers was rather positive and will help with the organization of the next G4AE Young Farmers Tour planned in the Netherlands for 2024.