Biodiversity in the Netherlands is under considerable pressure. Dairy farms are the largest users of the agricultural land and can make an important contribution to the restoration of biodiversity. The aim of this research is to develop knowledge and tools to integrate biodiversity and precision grassland management in a dairy farm, while maintaining income.
Normally, extensification is the strategy to provide more space for biodiversity. However, this is often at the expense of feed production and operating profitability. This PPP takes up the challenge of combining a substantial gain in biodiversity with preservation of feed production or efficiency improvement.
Inspiration for this is found in precision agriculture. Precision agriculture can provide tailor-made solutions for location and time specific management of soil and crop. It is now often associated with valuable crops such as potatoes, sugar beets and grain. However, it is also applicable in the management of grassland. The use of precision agriculture for the management of bio-diverse plots with grass and herbs is innovative and is being developed in this PPP.
The aim of this research is to develop knowledge and tools to integrate biodiversity and precision grassland management in a dairy farm, while maintaining income. The ambition is to focus on biodiversity on 25% of the total business surface. There is also room for biodiversity on the remaining 75%, but not as a primary goal.
Precision agriculture increases production and / or efficiency through better (timing of) crop care and harvest. Optimal use can also be made of natural processes (eg yield increase in mixed crops). Precision farming can contribute to less resource use and to the optimal management and integration of herbaceous grass. The use of precision farming entails costs that can be offset by additional revenues on specific services and cost savings on fertilizers, concentrates and additional crop yields.
There are three key factors in this quest:
2. precision techniques
3. integrating biodiversity into business operations
Biodiversity in the Netherlands is under considerable pressure. The share of grassland (temporary, permanent and natural grassland) has decreased from 1980, but remains by far the largest of the crops at 55%. The area of permanent grassland has decreased by more than 38% since 1980, while the area of temporary grassland has increased more than fivefold. In 2015 there were 1,008,000 hectares of grassland, of which 242,000 hectares of temporary grassland (24%), 714,000 hectares of permanent grassland (71%) and 52,000 hectares of natural grassland (5%). Dairy farms and grazing cattle farms are the largest users of the grassland acreage in the Netherlands and can therefore make an important contribution to the restoration of biodiversity. In recent decades, land consolidation, grassland renewal, reduced grazing and intensification have resulted in the landscape becoming fairly uniform.
However, a turnaround is underway that manifests itself in the reassessment of the goals of the Sustainable Dairy Chain. It sets concrete goals for biodiversity. In addition, the Sustainable Dairy Chain also strives to maintain outdoor grazing, continuously improve animal welfare and develop climate-neutral development. This creates urgency from the sector. The challenge facing this PPP is how to integrate these ambitious biodiversity targets into the business operations of Dutch dairy farms.
Normally, extensification of grassland use is the strategy to provide more space for biodiversity. However, this is often at the expense of feed production (quantity and / or quality) and operating profitability. In the past year, a number of 'High Tech meets Biodiversity' workshops were held with various stakeholders around the Dairy Campus innovation center to test an innovative concept. The key question there was how you can produce a comparable amount of grass and roughage at farm level and at the same time use 25% of the acreage to integrate biodiversity. Those involved are enthusiastic and endorse the usefulness and necessity of further developing this concept and bringing it to the attention of dairy farmers and contractors. This PPP takes up the challenge of combining a substantial gain in biodiversity with preservation of feed production or efficiency improvement and introducing this to pioneers.
1. Pasture grazing with bio-diverse plots
Pasture grazing is increasing again. Over the past decade, the focus in knowledge development has been on increasing grass intake and production. With the increasing demand for the restoration of biodiversity and its implementation in agriculture, new knowledge questions arise about bio-diverse pasture grazing. We look for synergies between biodiversity, grass intake and production. New techniques such as drones and sensors create new opportunities to research and monitor biodiversity.
There is still little knowledge about the relationship between herbs in the grassland to promote biodiversity and grass absorption and grazing. The question is also whether it makes a difference for grazing whether it is better to place the herbs at the edges of the plot or to mix them in the entire field to preserve the herbs and whether you use a combination of plots with and without herbs you can put your grazing around. Insight into grazing behavior and grass intake is desirable.
In current grazing systems, regular mowing takes place in between to reduce the resulting forests around manure patches. Forests have a potential positive effect on biodiversity. It is being tested whether delayed mowing can serve as a measure to promote biodiversity in pasture grazing. Recent research shows that forests can be monitored with drones. The drone images map the mosaic formation on the company. The influence on the biodiversity of the different habitats can be tested by comparing the drone images with field measurements of soil life, insects and birds.
The aim of this sub-project is to investigate how biodiversity and meadow grazing go together. We want to investigate this within a newly introduced grazing system that is applicable to all livestock farmers: the New Dutch pasture. Within this system, we not only want to graze with a view to grass intake and production, but also create a living environment for herbs, insects and birds. We focus on the effect of grazing management.
2. Animal health with herbs and clovers
The health and resilience of animals is important in the operational management of a dairy farm in order to convert the feed supply (including fresh grass in the pasture) into valuable milk. Healthy and resilient animals last longer and thus contribute to sustainable dairy farming. Clovers and other herbs, in addition to their added value for the grassland and biodiversity, may also contribute to the health and resilience of dairy cows. However, relatively little research has been done on this. Can it be substantiated with data and can we gain more insight into the effect of herbs in the grass ration of dairy cattle on health and resilience? Can we gain insight into the effect of clovers and other herbs on the behavior and health of the animals at Dairy Campus (and possibly other companies such as Eytemaheert) and can we measure the effect of rich herbs in the ration in the milk composition? Grazing behavior is monitored at Aeres Farms in Dronten. These data and experiences are included in this sub-project
The aim of this innovation experiment is to gain insight into the effect of the supply of bio-diverse grass on the health and resilience of dairy cows.
3. Combine level increase with fixed tramlines
An increase in the level contributes to the development of a more herbaceous vegetation as a result of watering. Farmland birds also benefit from moist soil. This makes it easier for them to get insects out of the ground with their beaks. It also leads to slower grass growth and therefore a better habitat in which to incubate and to raise young. An increase in water level also leads to loss of yield. Fixed tramlines can possibly compensate for this: less soil compaction and less weather dependence when fertilizing, mowing and harvesting. To what extent is it possible to keep the roughage production constant at a level increase?
The ultimate goal is to improve the biodiversity of the grassland by raising the level and to maintain the roughage production and quality by combining the level increase with the use of fixed tramlines in a practical way.
4. More biodiversity through specific fertilization of grassland
Worldwide, including in the Netherlands, biodiversity is deteriorating so much that the foundations of our economy are threatened, as are food security and quality of life (IPBES 2019). Agriculture is one of the causes of the loss of biodiversity, but also plays an important role in its recovery (FAO 2019). This is also endorsed in Minister Schouten's vision on circular agriculture, as well as in the Delta Plan on biodiversity recovery. More than 800,000 ha of grassland is managed by dairy farmers. How can biodiversity be increased on this large area through the use of precision agriculture? Grass growth can be monitored via sensors (satellite, mowing machine, drone, grass chopper). By giving the right amount of floating / artificial / solid fertilizer at the right time, in the right place, fertilizer utilization increases. There is good experience with the so-called "Olympic strategy" in arable farming. In other words, make better performance even better. Optimal distribution of nutrients during growth leads to minimal losses. But also to more variation within and between plots. Can this strategy ensure that both biodiversity (in places where fewer nutrients go) and production (in places where more nutrients go)?
Development and testing of a concept for precise fertilization of grassland to realize and maintain more biodiversity and to be able to harvest grass and roughage sufficiently. It thus focuses on developing fertilization strategies for plots with different botanical composition.
Restoring biodiversity through the use of precision agriculture is not an automatic process. This calls for changes to the business operations and machinery. And it has consequences for both the dairy farmer and his contractor. A small group of contractors and dairy farmers is experimenting with the application of precision agriculture in field work. Completely new is the link between biodiversity and precision agriculture. Bringing together pioneers on a specific topic in agriculture on a regular basis has in the past accelerated the resolution of bottlenecks and the organization of support among the sector, policy and society.
The innovation network brings together 20-25 forerunners (contractors and dairy farmers) from all over the Netherlands to exchange experiences and discuss what is needed in terms of innovations, regulations, stimulation, etc. The aim is to get these 'early adapters' to work on a permanent basis. with precision agriculture for more biodiversity. They also think along with the research in the PPP, contribute topics for the innovation projects and start experiments. Special attention in this innovation network is devoted to the development to integrate biodiversity and precision agriculture for grassland management into a business operation. This assessment framework will be developed and tested in collaboration with the participants in the innovation network. Practical, social, economic, personal and technical considerations play a role in this. Compare this with the lifespan matrix, but now for bio diverse grassland management.
The question is how a modern dairy farm - through the use of precision agriculture - can gradually make room on 25% of the total business surface for biodiversity with constant income and feed production, without subsidies, and at the same time score well on the sustainability indicators of the Sustainable Dairy Network (DZK). . Innovation center Dairy Campus in Leeuwarden developed a strategy for this in 2018 and wants to apply this strategy in the form of a Living Lab.
- Through the use of precision agriculture on Dairy Campus, gradually make room for biodiversity on 25% of the total business surface. This requires step-by-step and iterative adjustments in the operational management at both the Dairy Campus and the contractor. Planning, implementation, monitoring and adjustment takes place to make the company more diverse with more plant species (herb-rich grassland). The precision techniques to be used for the management of the parcels are carefully chosen and guided for their adaptability.
- Set up Dairy Campus and have it developed as a Living Lab for biodiversity that shares its experiences through workshops / excursions / publications and is also available for the implementation of innovation projects.
- Effect of grazing behavior, bio-diverse plots, grazing strategy, mowing strategy and livestock density on forest formation and heterogeneity of plots.
- Which herbs contribute to good grass absorption and whether patterns can be detected here.
- Which grazing systems, including Nieuw Nederlands Weiden, are practically applicable in farm systems with a diversity of bio-diverse plots.