Pushing production or prioritising the environment: an early morning debate on balancing the role of permanent pasture

April’s NSA Breakfast Club webinar generated an informative discussion on a very important subject to the sheep industry – the role of permanent pasture.

This is an area of significant debate at the moment and the content was thought provoking, educational and covered a number of key topics. Grass feeding benefits the health of grazing animals; the health of people who eat products from these animals; and the health of the environment. However, there are a very wide range of permanent pastures and it is wrong to assume they are all delivering the same values. The webinar allowed discussion on the options available to support decision making on a farm-by-farm basis.

John Lloyd, from the NSA Cymru / Wales committee, chaired the session, with speakers Liz Genever and Dr Lisa Norton and panellists Dr Aurelie Aubry, Professor Robin Pakeman and Dr Prysor Williams.

Liz Genever, an independent sheep and beef consultant, opened with her thoughts on the benefits of permanent pasture and also highlighted some areas where, in her words “it doesn’t do so well”. Reminding the audience that roughly 40% of UK pasture is permanent, with a disproportionate amount in areas focused on sheep and beef production, how it is an important part of those production systems.

Dr Lisa Norton, an ecologist at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Lancaster, with an interest in how permanent pasture can be beneficially managed from both an ecological and agricultural aspect, followed by again reminding how grasslands are a key part of our landscape and have been for many years. Lisa continued by stressing how soils in pastures play an important role, in absorbing & filtering water, improving water quality and reducing flooding, as well as cycling nutrients and storing carbon on a large scale.

Professor Robin Pakeham (James Hutton Institute), Dr. Prysor Williams (Bangor University), and Dr. Aurelie Aubry (AFBI NI) then each provided insights into the topic. A discussion followed, chaired by John, based on questions posed to the group by the attendees. These questions covered a number of the points raised by the panel, from optimal methods for reseeding permanent pasture, to carbon management, to the relative benefits of Agroforestry.

To read a more in-depth report on this webinar, click here.