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Evaluation of the ÖPUL measure "silage-free feeding" in terms of biodiversity

What is at issue?

Grassland farms use different management systems for fodder production, e.g. hay preparation, silage preparation, harvesting of green fodder, grazing and the combinations of these farming methods. The project used 18 test farms to investigate how these different farming practices affect grassland habitats and their inhabitants, e.g. insects.

What is the benefit?

An analysis of different fodder production systems in grassland with regard to their effect on biodiversity enables decision-makers to develop targeted subsidy measures or to optimize existing subsidy measures.

Pictures from the project

 

What do we do?

At 18 typical grassland farms from Salzburg, Tyrol and Styria, the different management systems were documented in conversation with the farmers and analysed in particular with regard to the frequency of use and the time of cutting. Analysis showed that the hay farms had a later first cut time and a lower intensity of use than the respective comparison farms. Seven of the nine hay farms surveyed mowed on average fewer areas at once than their comparable farms, creating mosaic-like grassland structures. The conditions for being able to serve as a habitat for insects were therefore higher in the hay farms than in the comparison farms.

In 10 of the 18 farms, the individual densities and biomass of locusts, bugs and cicadas were recorded on 5 areas per farm to assess the impact of management on biodiversity. The 5 research areas were selected in such a way that they well depicted the management intensity of the farms. Two of the areas per farm were selected in such a way that a direct comparison between hay farm and comparison farm was possible, i.e. the areas had a comparable management intensity and were in direct proximity to each other. It was found that four of the five hay farms had a slightly higher number of insect species than the comparison farms. In terms of individual numbers, only one of the five hay farms had higher values than the comparable farm, mainly due to the number of cicadas, the number of which were significantly lower for hay farms overall than for the comparable farms. For the 20 direct comparison areas, only slight differences were found between hay and comparison holdings. The direct comparison areas were typical intensive meadows, mowed four or more times per year and fertilized four or more times per year. These meadows do not make a significant contribution to biodiversity conservation, irrespective of the further treatment of the gras (hay or silage), since firstly, due to intensive use (frequent mowing, fertilisation, frequent mechanical impairment, rapid removal of the material), the numbers of species are significantly lower than in the less intensively used grassland, since secondly, there are practically no higher-grade red-list species (=declining, endangered species) on these areas and, thirdly, the individual densities of the existing species are only about half as large as in the less intensively used grassland (food resource aspect). The undoubted negative effects on biodiversity of the high management intensity thus mask the presumptive positive effects of relinquishment of silage-production.

« We are a hay-milk farm because hay smells better and it is easier to feed. The milk yield is lower, but we receive ÖPUL subsidies and the milk price is also higher than on non-hay farms.»

Maria S., dairy farmer from Styria

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