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Potential benefits of diverse pasture swards for sheep and beef farming

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-03, 16:40 authored by Iris Vogeler, Ronaldo VibartRonaldo Vibart, Rogerio Cichota
To investigate the potential use of diverse pasture swards to reduce nitrate leaching from intensive sheep and beef farms while maintaining economic viability, an integrated modelling assessment was conducted for the Canterbury region, New Zealand. The biophysical Agriculture Production Systems Simulator (APSIM) was used to obtain pasture growth curves for simple and diverse pastures over 10 different years, and the whole-farm system models FARMAX® and OVERSEER® were used to examine feed flow, nutrient balance, profitability, and nitrate leaching. The N leaching obtained from Overseer was compared to estimates from APSIM. Five farm scenarios were explored including three different proportions of the flat farm area under simple and diverse pastures (100% simple, 100% diverse, 50/50), two different stocking policies (without and with adjustment of livestock numbers), and three different years (an average, a best and a worst year, based on annual pasture yields). In the average year pasture growth was similar for the simple and diverse pasture swards, with annual pasture yields of 8.98 and 9.23 t DM/ha. The simple pasture had slightly higher growth in winter due to lower sensitivity to cold temperatures, whereas the diverse pasture showed higher growth during summer, which is frequently prone to water limitations. However, in the best year modelled pasture growth as well as profit were higher for the simple compared with the diverse sward. Pasture N concentrations ranged from 2.5 to 3.5 % of DM in the simple pasture, and from 2.2 to 3.1 % in the diverse pasture, mainly due to a lower proportion of legumes. For the average year, having a diverse pasture on 50% of the farm area without changing the stocking policy of the farm, increased farm profit by 16%, due to the sale of surplus pasture. The total farm N leaching values obtained from APSIM, based on excretal N amounts obtained from Overseer show that the use of diverse pastures on 100% of the flat area decreased N leaching in an average year by 35%. In the worst year however, N leaching under the diverse pasture was slightly higher, and in the best year it decreased by 14 % compared with the simple pasture. Corresponding reductions in N leaching estimated from Overseer were 6, 5 and 13% for the diverse pasture, primarily due to the lower N concentration of the diverse pasture. In contrast to APSIM, Overseer does not take into account the higher uptake of N of diverse pastures from the urine patches compared to simple pastures, which is mainly due to increased pasture growth in summer. This potential of diverse pastures to decrease N leaching needs to be evaluated via experimental studies, which should also include other aspects such as pasture persistence, and address the need for accurate model parameterisation. This modelling study also provided guidance for model refinement.


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Copyright © 2017 Elsevier B.V.


  • English

Does this contain Māori information or data?

  • No



Journal title

Agricultural Systems




Vogeler, I., Vibart, R., & Cichota, R. (2017). Potential benefits of diverse pasture swards for sheep and beef farming. Agricultural Systems, 154, 78–89. doi:10.1016/j.agsy.2017.03.015


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