Greener pastures for national grassland database

“A one per cent increase in grass use is worth about €27m annually,” noted Teagasc’s Dr Michael O’Donovan who was speaking recently on its new national grassland database Pasture Base Ireland.

In a outline delivered at the recent Teagasc conference on agriculture and future weather patterns, he said: “Grass and its efficient production is crucial to us going forward whether its dairy, beef or sheep.”

Pasture Base Ireland, developed at Teagasc’s Animal and Grassland Research and Innovation Centre in Moorepark, went live to 140 farmers on the 21 January this year.

“It’s basically a forum for holding grassland data,” Dr O’Donovan noted. “This data belongs to Irish grassland farmers be it dairy, beef or sheep. The data then is used for research purposes and for advisory purposes.

“The database stores all grassland measurements in a common structure. This will allow the quantification of grass growth and DM production across different enterprises, grassland management systems regions and soil types using a common measurement protocol and methodology.

“It will also investigate grass cultivar performance something that’s unique in the world of grassland research,” he added.

Dr O’Donovan stressed: “This is a two-way process, the crucial person involved in the system is the grassland farmer. The farmer is the person who is going to be capturing the data. Then the advisory and research service have access to that data.”

There is also be a number of useful tools for farmers provided by the system including spring rotation plan, grass wedge, autumn rotation plan and autumn grass budget.

Dr O’Donovan noted: “These are crucial tools for the farmer in achieving success in utilising the grass that’s on farms. That’s the key part of growing grass.”

He commented that the system will allow farmers to be classified and benchmarked. “Farmers react to benchmarking against other farmers. Farmers really react when there compared to their neighbour or competitor.”

He noted this will be a crucial element to the success of Pasture Base.

“The results so far have shown huge variation on farms. We see more variation in DM production within the farm gate that we do between farms.

“If you look at the higher producing farmers. Paddocks on their farms range in grass DM production only about four/tonnes per ha. On the other end of the scale there is much larger variation between high and low performing paddocks.

“This demonstrates that there is more consistency between paddocks on high-producing farms compared to the lower-producing farms, Pasture Base will be useful in addressing that,” he noted.

On future plans Dr O Donovan said: “As we push Pasture Base further into the country, which we plan to, we will see in the Midlands, North West and North East will have higher grass growth potential than the south.”

“Results are showing that there are plenty of farmers out there that are able to grow much more grass. We have been a thorn in the side of the ICT department in Teagasc over the past 12 months. This is only the first year, we have a considerable amount of work still to do. This is just the beginning,” he concluded.