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Temperate grassland: key developments in the last century and future perspectives

  • A. HOPKINS (a1) and R. J. WILKINS (a1)
Abstract

In temperate regions, grassland provides most of the feed requirements for ruminants. Its management has implications for landscape and environmental quality as well as agricultural production. The present paper reviews the key developments in grassland management, production and utilization during the 20th century, focusing primarily on the UK but drawing on research and practice from other areas. Increased production from grassland has arisen from improved understanding of soil and plant nutrition, plant physiology and cultivar improvement, while improved understanding of feed evaluation, ruminant nutrition, grazing management and silage technology have contributed to increased utilization of grassland under grazing and cutting. Permanent and long-term swards occupied most of the total grassland area at both the beginning and end of the century, but inputs of nitrogen resulted in greatly increased herbage production, particularly from the 1960s; this, combined with reseeding and early cutting for silage, led to reduced botanical diversity with ryegrass dominance in lowland areas. Forage legumes were highly regarded at the beginning of the century, then decreased in many areas, but are again recognized as having a key role in low- and medium-input systems. Recognition of the environmental implications of grassland management has increased since the 1980s. This includes the need to reduce nutrient emissions in grassland agriculture, and also the role of grassland in biodiversity protection, carbon sequestration and landscape quality. Research is increasingly focused on addressing these issues and on integrating agricultural management with environmental protection. Improved nutrient management, legume-based systems and agri-environmental schemes, as well as interest in the food quality attributes of particular systems and grassland communities, are important in the medium term. In the longer term the effects of population increase, competition for other land uses and the impacts of climate change could impact on global food supplies and affect future grassland management in the temperate zones.

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Corresponding author
Email: alan.hopkins@bbsrc.ac.uk
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The Journal of Agricultural Science
  • ISSN: 0021-8596
  • EISSN: 1469-5146
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-agricultural-science
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