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Impact of transition from permanent pasture to new swards on the nitrogen use efficiency, nitrogen and carbon budgets of beef and sheep production

Carswell, A.M., Gongadze, K., Misselbrook, T.H., Wu, L.
Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 2019 v.283 pp. 106572
Trifolium repens, beef, carbon, data collection, farming systems, farms, forage, grasses, grasslands, grazing, grazing systems, leaching, livestock production, models, net primary productivity, nitrogen, nutrient use efficiency, pastures, sheep, soil respiration, sward
There is currently much debate around the environmental implications of ruminant farming and a need for robust data on nitrogen (N) and carbon (C) fluxes from beef and sheep grazing systems. Here we use data collected from the North Wyke Farm Platform along with the SPACSYS model to examine the N and C budgets and the N use efficiency (NUE) of grassland swards at different stages of establishment. We assessed the transition from permanent pasture (PP) to a high-sugar grass (HSG), and a mixed sward of HSG with white clover (HSGC), identifying data specifically for the reseed (RS) years and the first year following RS (HSG-T and HSGC-T). Dominant fluxes for the N budget were N offtake as cut herbage and via livestock grazing, chemical-N fertiliser and N leaching at 88–280, 15–177, and 36–92 kg N ha−1 a−1, respectively. Net primary productivity, soil respiration and C offtake as cut herbage and via livestock grazing at 1.9–15.9, 1.74–12.5, and 0.34–11.7 t C ha−1 a−1, respectively, were the major C fluxes. No significant differences were found between the productivity of any of the swards apart from in the RS year of establishment. However, NUE of the livestock production system was significantly greater for the HSGC and HSGC-T swards at 32 and 42% compared to all other swards, associated with the low chemical-N fertiliser inputs to these clover-containing swards. Our findings demonstrate opportunities for improving NUE in grazing systems, but also the importance of setting realistic NUE targets for these systems to provide achievable goals for land-managers.