SARIC Translation: Grassland Management

Lead Research Organisation: Cranfield University
Department Name: School of Water, Energy and Environment

Abstract

Grassland is the dominant land use in the UK covering 12.4 million ha (71% of a total agricultural area). Grasslands and ruminants also have great importance to the UK economy. The value of the output (£8.2 billion) of the ruminant sector (dairy and beef cattle and sheep) is the largest in UK agriculture being substantially greater than the arable (£3.5 billion), the fruit and vegetable (£4.5 billion) and the combined pig and poultry sectors (£4.2 billion). UK grassland provides approximately 70% of the 42 million tonnes of forage dry matter consumed by UK ruminants. Hence improving UK grassland managers' systematic understanding of how daily grass growth responds to a changing climate and economic environment is critical in determining the future efficiency, resilience and profitability of the UK livestock sector.

This research translation project, undertaken with the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Innovation Club (SARIC) will translate a newly validated ESPRC UK process-based model of grass growth, termed here as the "Rothamsted grass model", (Qi et al., 2017) to create an adaptable decision-support and learning tool through co-design and innovative workshops with end-users.

The aim of the project is to translate, co-design and use a decision support and learning tool to improve the profitability and sustainability of how current and future UK farmers manage their grassland.
It has four objectives:
1. To develop the tool with the support of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Innovation Club
2. To translate, and debug, the recently validated Rothamsted UK grass-growth model (Qi et al., 2017) into an open spreadsheet format to enable multi-functional and widespread use on farms.
3. To co-design the layout of a decision support and learning tool, using the model, with selected end-users to improve the grassland management of current and future land managers.
4. To develop current and future farmers' adaptive capacity to use the model using innova social science methods.

The project will translate an open already-validated UK process-based model of grass growth (the Rothamsted grass model) in the format of a spreadsheet tool that can be linked to existing arable crop and financial modules. The planned impact of the project is to improve the use of grass on farms to increase profits and to minimise waste, to encourage systematic thinking to enthuse future grass managers, to provide a means of bench-marking grass productivity on farms, and to provide a tool which also potentially allows assessment of other ecosystem services provided by grassland.

Planned Impact

Improved use of grass on-farm to increase profits: the use of the model will allow grassland farmers to systematically determine the impact of changes in temperature and rainfall, for specific soil types and cutting regimes, on the seasonal distribution of grass production and thereby more closely match supply with on-farm demand. Livestock systems are typically managed to provide a least-cost ration. Research at the University of Nottingham by Bell et al. (2011; 2015), using national production records and systems modelling, showed that improved efficiencies of production could profitably reduce greenhouse gas emissions from dairy herds. In dairy systems, if 10% of the 1.8 million dairy cows in Britain improved their feed utilisation by one kilogram per cow per day this would amount to about £9 million in increased annual profit (about £52 per cow per annum), and a potential reduction of 662 kg carbon dioxide equivalent emissions produced per cow (Bell et al. 2015). During the project we will undertake at least eight workshops with a range of grassland user groups. Assuming 10-20 farmers per group this implies at least 120 farmers. As resources allow we will seek to extend this number.

Minimising waste: optimising the use of grass will also help to minimise the proportion of nutrients consumed by the animal that are lost to the environment. For example, for ruminants, about 35% of energy consumed in the diet is lost in the form of enteric methane, faeces or urine and 77% of nitrogen consumed is excreted in faeces or urine (Bell et al. 2015). Information on supply of grass, and its associated variability, will allow better informed decisions on future needs.

Systematic thinking to enthuse future grass managers: the model will provide a systematic basis for grass-management by the next generation of farmers in the UK; demonstrating that excellent grass management can be informed by an understanding of crop ecology. Process-based models of, for example wheat gwth, have enabled arable students over the past 20 years to understand how cool temperatures during grain-filling increase yields. It is an important part of the package that makes agricultural management an attractive and intellectually-stimulating career encouraging innovators to stay in the industry. We anticipate that there could also be potential spin-offs in the roadside maintenance, and grass management in urban-green space and the sports recreation sectors. From year 1 we will be working with AFTP who work with 1200 customers and potentially 200 students across five institutes (through at least two workshops).

Benchmarking: measurement is a critical step in improving grass productivity. However effective bench-marking will benefit from a systematic way of establishing if a recent high or low grass yield is the result of management or environmental effects such as higher temperatures. The model offers a way to address such confounding effects. At a time when the climate is changing, providing a systematic understanding of grass growth will enable mangers to adapt their management to changing conditions. In addition to new entrants, arable farmers are also increasingly using grass within arable rotation and they want to understand the options for improved grass management.

Cross-compatibility with multi-cropping and ecosystem models: models are not only informative in terms of yield, but they can describe how grass in different seasons, altitudes, and soil types create a range of ecosystem services. This includes supply of carbon to the soil, changes in evapotranspiration, and the capacity to retain nitrogen. Our vision is that the Rothamsted grass model will allow the UK to have a widely-used validated model that can describe how grassland creates wider societal benefits and thereby public cost-benefit analysis.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description In the first 18 months of the project, we translated two process-based grassland models into a spreadsheet format where they can be readily used for teaching grassland management. The spreadsheet version of an existing grassland model called "LINGRA" describes the development and growth of green leaves in response to solar radiation, temperature, drought, and harvest interval. The second model, which also describes the effect of soil nitrogen application, is based a model called "LINGRA-N" but with modified routines for soil-nitrogen release and increased partitioning to stems as the sward develops. The model outputs match experimental results. We have used the models to teach grassland management to students at the University of Nottingham, and to discuss improved grassland management with professional practitioners at workshops in Devon, South West Scotland, and North Wales.
Exploitation Route As of February 2020, we are still engaging with stakeholders involved in improving grassland management in the UK on how to best use these models in teaching and strategic planning.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

 
Description We have two translated grassland management models which can be used to teach grassland management. We have used the model with two cohorts of about 35 agriculture and plant science students at the University of Nottingham to improve understanding of the interactions between grass harvests and grass yields, with the intention of improving grassland management.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Education
Impact Types Societal

 
Title Microsoft Excel version of the LINGRA grassland growth model 
Description A Microsoft Excel version of the LINGRA grassland growth model 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The Microsoft Excel version of the LINGRA grasslan growth model was used for teaching of grassland management at the University of Nottingham in 2019. 
 
Title Microsoft Excel version of the LINGRA-N teaching tool for grassland growth and yield 
Description A Microsoft Excel version of the LINGRA-N grassland growth and yield model based on Wolf (2012), but with a modified soil-N routine based on Addiscott and Whitmore (1987) and an algorithm for increased partitioning to stems as the sward develops. The outputs match the results of a grassland experiment at Aberystwyth that assessed the impact of different harvest intervals at range of nitrogen applications on green leaf and total yield (Wilman et al. 1976). ADDISCOTT, T.M., WHITMORE, A.P. (1987). Computer simulation of changes in soil mineral nitrogen and crop nitrogen during autumn, winter and spring. Journal of Agricultural Science, Cambridge 109, 141-157. WILMAN, D. et al. (1976). The effect of interval between harvests and nitrogen application on the proportion and yield of crop fractions in four ryegrass varieties in the first harvest year. Journal of Agricultural Science, Cambridge 86, 189-203. WOLF, J. (2012). LINGRA-N: Simple generic model for simulation of grass growth under potential, water limited and N limited conditions. https://models.pps.wur.nl/ lingra-n-grassland-model-potential-water-limited-and-n-limited-conditions-fortran 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The model has been used for teaching grassland management at the University of Nottingham and for discussing field operations with grassland consultants and advisors. 
 
Description Grassland Modelling Workshop with Undergraduate Students at University of Nottingham (28 February 2019) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact The project team led an interactive afternoon workshop with 35 undergraduate students at the University of Nottingham on computer modelling of grassland growth on 28 Feb 2019. The workshop focused on hands-on experience of using a grassland model and investigating the effect of temperature, rainfall, and cutting frequency on grass yields. The model promoted questions about improving grassland management.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Presentation and Poster presented at Sustainable Agriculture Research and Innovation Club at Sheffield, 1-2 October 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation of research as a presentation and as a poster at the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Innovation Club Fifth Dissemination Event, which resulted in the award of the prize for the best poster and which engaged interest from participants.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Presentation at Sustainable Agriculture Research and Innovation Club Meeting (10-11 October 2018) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Innovation Club (SARIC) Annual Meeting provides a two-day forum for researchers with SARIC awards to discuss their work with representatives from a number of UK businesses and institutions, and with other researchers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Technical workshop on grassland modelling in the UK at SRUC Edinburgh Campus 29 November 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Six participants at a technical workshop on the development and use of grassland models, drawing on insights from SRUC, CEH, and ADAS.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Technical workshop on the use of grassland models in the UK with grassland modellers and policy advisors at Cranfield University, Bedfordshire 19 March 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Seven people (including representatives from ADAS, AHDB, and AFBI) attended a technical workshop on the use of grassland models to predict grassland growth and yields in the UK.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Workshop on SARIC grassland model with Farm Connect staff at St Asaph in North Wales, 22 October 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Workshop on the development and use of the SARIC grassland model with 4 practitioners associated with Farm Connect in North Wales
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Workshop on SARIC grassland model with dairy consultants at SRUC Barony Campus 13 March 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Eleven dairy consultants or advisors engaged in grassland management attended a workshop at SRUC Barony on the use of the SARIC Grassland model, identifying opportunities to use the model and providing feedback on the features and presentation of the grass model.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Workshop on SARIC grassland model with grassland managers and consultants at North Wyke, Devon, 14 February 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Workshop on the use of the SARIC Grassland model and opportunities for future development with 6 professional practitioners associated with grassland management in South West England.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020