Conservation of grasslands in the Thuringian Forest Nature Park by optimized, whole-farm management concepts
For the conservation and sustainable use of temperate grasslands the project aims at developing and implementing a method for the large-scale assessment and evaluation of grasslands. Further, optimized, whole-farm management concepts are designed and tested. Based on that, we give recommendations on how to optimize future agri-environment schemes aimed at grassland conservation.
Permanent grasslands are key elements of agricultural landscapes in Europe. However, traditional grassland-based farming systems are threatened by either intensification or abandonment. Particularly grasslands in upland regions like the Thuringian Forest are in decline due to cessation of management and subsequent woody plant encroachment. The conservation of these grasslands by means of regionally adapted management practices is labor intensive and the use of the forage is not economically viable anymore. The ongoing decline of these grasslands has severe consequences, since upland grasslands have shaped the cultural landscape for centuries and contribute to the attractiveness of the countryside. Furthermore, upland grasslands play an important role for the conservation of biodiversity, the protection of water sources and soils and mitigating climate change.
The project “Conserving grasslands in the Thuringian Forest Nature Park by optimized, whole-farm management concepts” aims at developing whole-farm management concepts to safeguard and conserve upland grasslands rich in biodiversity. These concepts build on a thorough assessment and evaluation of the different types of permanent grasslands in the Thuringian Forest Nature Park. To enable the determination of grassland types and corresponding grassland plants, we develop and verify a field guide. Further, the project aims to qualify young farmers and to organize information workshops for regional groups of stakeholders to ensure effective transfer of knowledge. In addition, we provide recommendations on how to optimize future agri-environment schemes aimed at grassland conservation.
Farmers and foresters, politicians, environment agencies, consultants, scientists, municipalities, consumers, tourism associations
We developed and exemplary implemented a method for assessing and qualitatively evaluating grasslands. A representative sample of 2,667 ha of grassland was obtained, covering approx. 10% of the area of grassland in the nature park. This sample comprised all grassland fields (n=799) of six representative “reference farms” representing different types of farms (suckler cows, dairy cattle, sheep or horse husbandry and non‐livestock farming) as well as 200 additional grassland fields outside the reference farms. Vegetation surveys were conducted on all 999 fields according to a standardized method and the respective site and management data were collected. The grassland vegetation was then subdivided into grassland types according to phytosociological criteria. For their discrimination and determination, a field guide was developed. In six “reference municipalities” (= municipalities, which host large proportions of the grassland fields of the reference farms) the condition of 138 grassland fields was recorded, which were not documented in the integrated administration and control system (IACS), i.e. fields, for which the farmers receive no subsidies.
Based on the optional management recommendations that were derived for each grassland type, optimized, whole-farm management concepts were developed in close collaboration with the farm managers of the reference farms and evaluated in economic terms. For each grassland field of the reference farms, the current grassland management practice was compared with the targeted management recommendation in order to determine the need for changes in management to improve the condition of the grassland types. The economic consequences of these changes in management practices (e.g. changes in dry matter yield or higher workload) were assessed and evaluated for each reference farm using a farm level approach.
Based on the optimized, whole-farm management concepts and their economic evaluation, recommendations were derived on how to optimize future agri-environment schemes.
Altogether, 52 grassland types were derived from the investigated grassland fields. Of these, 22 belonged to existing phytosociological units. For the identified grassland types, a practical field guide based on a matrix of characteristic species was developed, which can be transferred to other comparable regions in upland and low mountain ranges. More than half of the grassland was underused and in a degraded state. The grassland vegetation reflected the long-term, unusually high extensification due to late cutting, renunciation of fertilization, inadequate maintenance and a decline in the number of livestock animals. For each of the derived grassland types several optional management recommendations (with regard to utilization, fertilization and maintenance) were developed for broad practical usage. Their implementation in practice enables to either preserve the respective grassland type in the long run or to improve its condition. The field guide and the corresponding management recommendations for the grassland types have been published and can be purchased from the Deutsche Grünlandverband e.V.
Within the reference municipalities about half of the grassland fields that were not registered in the IACS were no longer used for agricultural production, only a third of these grassland fields were maintained and well managed. The greatest obstacles to management were attributable to trees and bushes, tree stumps and fallen trees as well as poor accessibility (access to roads, isolation). However, if adequately funded, more than 3/4 of the grasslands could be conserved in the long term by farming or maintenance measures.
Within the reference farms, the comparison of the current management (actual status) with the targeted management recommendation (recommendation) drawn up for each grassland field, revealed a need for action to change management on 46% of the fields, despite considering local site conditions and the type of grassland farming. For 54% the actual management largely corresponded to the recommendation. Shortfalls in grassland management practices mainly concerned the underuse (undifferentiated renunciation of fertilization, lack of mowing of high grazing residues, late use of spring growth and high levels of shrub cover). For 33% of the grassland field of the reference farms, the farm managers agreed to integrate the management recommendations into their whole-farm management concept. The optional management recommendations for the grassland types were assessed with regard to their potential yield effect. Since detailed calculation requirements (data on grassland yield and quality) were not available for individual fields, the comparison was made at the whole-farm level. An average increase in yield of 3.1 dt DM/ha was expected from the optimization recommendations; however, the specific management expenditure in the reference farms also increased on average by 108 € per hectare. The results revealed that the expected raise in revenues did not cover the calculated additional costs in any of the reference farms examined. The cost overrun was between 25 and 214 €/ha of grassland. Although it can be assumed that the optimized, whole-farm management concepts for the reference farms also influence the forage quality, possible changes in forage quality could not be taken into account since no information on the current forage quality was available for the reference farms.
From the discussions with the farm managers regarding the implementation of target-oriented management recommendations, we derived important information for future agri-environment schemes in the context of the CAP after 2020. In order to counteract underuse and deficits regarding nutrient management and maintenance, a paradigm shift in the agricultural policy is necessary. The proposals for supporting grasslands within the framework of the new CAP architecture in relation to the 1st and 2nd pillar are of high relevance. In particular, a concrete need for change/adjustment was formulated for the agri-environment schemes in the 2nd pillar, which comprises innovative objectives for the options. The proposals for the reorientation of the EU support for rural development as an integral part of the CAP are directed towards targeted, efficient and sustainable support of grassland management and make a significant contribution to preserving the diversity of the remaining grasslands in a sustainable and long-term manner
In order to support the knowledge transfer to practical application, the LPV Thüringer Wald, in cooperation with the agricultural school in Tamsweg (Lungau, Austria), has developed an education and qualification program for young farmers on the topic of "organic grassland and mountain farming" (technical and economic). This supra-regional relationship is ensured based on the contractual partnership between the two nature parks Thüringer Wald and Riedingtal-Lungau, which has existed for several years. The aim is to carry out an annual training program with 8 to 10 young farmers from the Thuringian Forest Nature Park in the future.
12.2015 - 6.2019
Project status: finished