Simple versus diverse pastures - opportunities and challenges in dairy systems
Pembleton, KG and Tozer, KN and Edwards, GR and Jacobs, JL and Turner, LR, Simple versus diverse pastures - opportunities and challenges in dairy systems, Proceedings of the 6th Australasian Dairy Science Symposium, 19-21 November 2014, Hamilton, New Zealand, pp. 206-216. (2014) [Refereed Conference Paper]
For Australian and New Zealand dairy farms the primary source of home grown feed comes from grazed perennial pastures. The high consumption of perennial pasture is a key factor in the low cost of production of Australian and New Zealand dairy systems and hence their ability to maintain international competiveness. The major pasture species used are perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) and white clover (Trifolium repens L.), normally grown in a simple binary mixture. As pasture production has been further driven by increasing use of nitrogen fertilizer and irrigation, farms are getting closer to their economic optimum level of pasture consumption. Increasing inputs and intensification has also increased scrutiny on the environmental footprint of dairy production. Increasing the diversity of pasture species within dairy swards presents opportunities to further increase the productivity of the feedbase through additional forage production, extending the growing season, improving forage nutritive characteristics and ultimately increasing milk production per cow and/or per ha. Diverse pastures also present an opportunity to mitigate some of the environmental consequences associated with intensive pasture-based dairy systems. A consistent finding of experiments investigating diverse pastures is that their benefits are due to the attributes of the additional species, rather than increasing the number of species per se. Therefore the species that are best suited for inclusion into dairy pastures will be situation specific. Furthermore, the presence of additional species will generally require modification to the management principles of dairy pastures, particularly around nitrogen fertilizer and grazing, to ensure that the additional species remain productive and persistent.