Grasslands health checks become easier

GLOBAL PASTURE RI Farm
DEVICE: New device measures grasslands health. (Photo: University of Nebraska–Lincoln)

A new low-cost way of checking nutrient levels in grasslands allows farmers to quickly monitor changes in pasture nutrients and to adapt their animals’ grazing methods.

By cutting the analysis time from about 16 hours to less than a minute, British developers say their handheld near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) device will greatly improve the sustainable management of grasslands. Using the device, the researchers at the UK’s University of Nottingham show that overgrazing pasture to below 7cm significantly reduces the amount protein and digestibility of the grassland.

“Real-time nutrient monitoring can provide a more timely and adaptive pasture management than is currently feasible for farmers and should lead to productivity gain,” says Assistant Prof Matt Bell.

“Using this new method of checking nutrient levels, we show that over-grazing or over-harvesting pastures will significantly reduce protein levels and its digestibility, which will be detrimental to the productivity of the land.”

Changes in pasture nutrients over the growing season are not typically monitored but doing so may help farmers make best use of this natural resource.

“Grass provides a cheap and affordable source of nutrients for ruminant livestock, which in turn produce milk and meat for humans,” Bell says. “To manage pasture most effectively, we need a tool for frequently monitoring pastures … that is quicker, easier and cheaper than traditional laboratory methods. To do this, we calibrated a handheld near-infrared spectroscopy device to measure nutrients in pasture.”

The process involves the comparison of pasture nutrient levels obtained by traditional laboratory methods, which require the use of large specialised equipment, to the readings given by the hand-held NIRS device.

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