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Long-term maintenance of grasslands on dairy farms is associated with redesign and hybridisation of practices, motivated by farmers' perceptions

Petit, T., Martel, G., Vertès, F., Couvreur, S.
Agricultural systems 2019 v.173 pp. 435-448
agronomy, animal welfare, corn, dairy farming, farmers' attitudes, farms, forage, grasslands, hybridization, lowlands, production technology, France
Despite a constant decline in grassland areas between the 1970s and 2010 at the regional and national scale in France, in particular on lowlands, grasslands have been maintained locally. This raises questions about long-term changes on the farms involved in these dynamics, particularly with regard to the relation between the evolution of the role of grasslands in production processes, and farmers' perceptions of fodder systems within production systems. Our research concerned three peri-urban cantons in Brittany, where we examined grassland practices over the long term and farmers' perceptions of grasslands in a sample of 15 farms within the area where grasslands were maintained. First, we modelled pathways of the place and roles of grasslands on farms, based on criteria of quantitative presence, management, and valorisation. Second, we characterised the farmers' perceptions of grasslands and the fodder system. We then performed combined analysis of these pathways and perceptions. The maintenance of grasslands was found in a diversity of pathways in which grasslands were used to a medium and large extent in the fodder systems. These changes occurred either through a complete redesign of the fodder system or through hybridisation of practices aimed at obtaining dairy systems that were more intensive yet more agri-ecological. The pathways that gave a new place to grasslands in the fodder system were related to farmers' perceptions marked by a fading opposition between grasslands and maize farming. They attributed additional value – in terms of animal welfare, economics, or agronomy – to grasslands in a mixed maize/grassland fodder system.