Agriculture within the Less Favoured Areas of the UK (LFAs) is entering a new era in which the complex demands for sustainable, productive livestock farming have to be balanced with environmental protection. Previous intensification of farming has led to a loss of fragile habitats and a degradation of the environment. Yet many of Europe's most highly prized landscapes and natural habitats are found in these LFAs. Modern agricultural policies are aimed at inspiring farmers to regard themselves as guardians of the rural environment as well as food producers by encouraging the adoption of more sustainable approaches to land management. These systems must protect fragile environments and enhance ecosystem function. Restoring and controlling grassland diversity may be beneficial to maintaining desirable levels of several ecosystem processes, and may therefore have applications in land management and agriculture. Thus, the development and use of forage legumes that encourage the development of greater biodiversity, contribute to a reduction in environmental pollution from grassland and also provide adequate production by prudent use of natural resources is key to the successful development of sustainable upland farming. The successful development of such legumes is dependent upon a detailed understanding of the key traits underpinning these objectives. The overall objective of this research is to provide information to develop varieties for ruminant production systems that are economically, ethically and environmentally sustainable in the LFAs of the UK. Pasture and forage legumes provide locally produced, high quality feed of known origin and when grown within the appropriate system can provide a nutritionally balanced diet for the ruminant animal. Greater reliance on such pastures is regarded as the best way of developing low-input, economically viable systems of livestock production in the LFAs. Forage legumes with improved agronomic and nutritional qualities that can be grown in low nutrient status soils and allow the development of acceptable levels of diversity are essential to the development of these systems. Ecological theory suggests that the ability of ecosystems to buffer environmental disturbance and change, is related to species diversity. Upland environments are subject to a number of extreme biotic and abiotic stresses that limit the persistence and productivity of legumes and create fluctuations in agronomic performance. Species richness is important at a medium level for ecosystem functioning, thus understanding the relationships between soil/plant/animal processes is essential to develop criteria for variety improvement and material suitable for maintaining balanced swards necessary for the optimum ruminant diet and species richness. The project will support germplasm improvement in LS 3644 and LS 3645 and associated work in LS3643 by contributing to a greater understanding of the mechanisms influencing tolerance of these factors. The resulting knowledge will be used to develop selection criteria leading to improvements in agronomic performance and overall diversity in upland environments. This will lead to the development of novel germplasm for direct use in LS 3644 as well as testing hypotheses relating to the factors affecting agronomic performance and co-existence in upland environments. It will also provide information to aid the protection of the environment by reducing pollution of surface and ground water resources together with the development of highly desirable improvements in sward diversity. The results from this project will also help improve the profitability of livestock farming in the LFAs and hence help to maintain viable rural communities in almost half the agricultural land of the UK whilst sustaining and enhancing rural environments. It will also enable farmers to produce meat from economically and environmentally sustainable livestock systems.
|Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
|Published - 2007