Objective: The Operational Group will investigate the feasibility and practicality of incorporating multi-species swards on Northern Ireland commercial beef and sheep farms. It is designed to increase the knowledge of multi-species sward establishment and management in different geographical areas of Northern Ireland, as well as determine their impact on animal performance, enterprise profitability and the wider environment. (600 max)

Activities:

• Establish multi-species swards on participant farms

• Assess the impact of multi-species swards on animal performance

• Assess the management requirements of multi-species swards 

• Assess the impact of multi-species swards on Biodiversity and Soil Carbon

• Explore added value routes to market of livestock utilising multi-species swards

• Determine prospects for success of multi-species sward incorporation on commercial NI farms

• Disseminate project activity and results 

Context: Farmers in Northern Ireland (NI) are increasingly facing financial, production and environmental challenges. Low profitability in beef and sheep production enterprises in particular is a real threat to the viability of the NI livestock sector.  Finding a suitable balance between maintaining profitable and sustainable livestock performance from grassland and improving farm ecosystem service provision is critical to sustaining farm businesses and the wider industry for the future.

Multi-species swards (also referred to as species-rich or diverse grasslands) are communities comprised of grass, legume and herb species. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that increasing the diversity of plant species within grasslands through such swards can meet many of these challenges; delivering a wide range of ecosystem services, reducing management costs and positively influencing livestock production. 

Since grassland is the predominant crop across Northern Ireland, incorporation of multi-species swards presents a significant opportunity for the livestock sector. Success will, however, be dependent on uptake and whilst the potential benefits of multi-species swards are numerous there is a distinct lack of information on their establishment and management on Northern Ireland commercial Beef and Sheep farms.

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