Central theme of the EGF general meeting 2022

The central theme of the congress is the contributions of grasslands and the products derived from them to the development of circular, healthy and sustainable food systems and the conditions for expressing their contributions. Questioning the herbivore production systems and their products must necessarily question the place that we give to grassland as a feed resource. Grazing can also contribute to animal welfare and to the positive image of herbivores farming systems. In the other side, grasslands can be seen as a reservoir and a means of preserving biodiversity, structuring landscapes, regulating biogeochemical cycles, helping to reduce the use of pesticides, contributing to the fight against global warming through their ability to store C and their albedo, contributing to the proper biological functioning of soils and limiting soil erosion. Which acreage and types of grassland and grassland management are required to take advantages and maximise these services? The options will probably vary according to local conditions. Grasslands are therefore at the heart of many issues expressed in the Green Deal, Farm to Fork strategy and biodiversity strategy for European food systems. The question of circularity refers to the link to local/regional context or to wider scales (C storage, food security) and encompass the great diversity of territories and their grasslands.

As the expectations regarding the performance of tomorrow's food systems are multiple and because the importance of each performance varies according to the stakeholder’s visions and the local climatic and agronomic context, achieving the objectives requires the search for new compromises between the various services. The analysis of the relationship between ecosystem services (trade-offs and synergies), their drivers encompassing economic, social, biological and biotic regulatory processes and the search of compromises will be the keystone of the congress. Beyond the provision of feed for herbivores, the diversification of the use of grasslands, in particular for producing energy, bio sourced material and feed for monogastric or for the production of and the consequences on the provision of other services recognized by the societies will be considered.

An original feature of the congress will be to have main reports produced by a group of authors from different disciplines and different regions of Europe in order to put forward a more global vision, to highlight the points of divergence and convergence and to encourage a maximum cross-fertilisation of views. For this, we will ask the prospective rapporteurs to contact colleagues to provide additional insight by providing them with one or two names of researchers who can provide a complementary perspective but specifying that they are confident about the choice of calling on other colleagues.

Themes for plenary sessions

Session 1: Putting grasslands into perspective

The objective of this session is to highlight the futures of grasslands in Europe in a context where animal production faces huge sustainability challenges and more globally the society is calling for food systems to change and this societal demand is relayed by ambitious political agenda (Green Deal, Farm to Fork Strategy, Biodiversity strategy). The ambition concerns food sovereignty, climate change, biodiversity losses, protection of ecosystems, animal welfare, farmer income and rural vitality. This new context may offer new assets for grassland and grassland based systems in their huge diversity but at the same time, many livestock farmers see grassland based systems as low producing, complex and old-fashioned systems.

1.1. Evolution of the issues for grasslands

This invited paper will provide an overall perspective on the role of public policies, notably the Common Agricultural Policy, to safeguard/increase European grassland acreage in the new European context and analyse the costs and benefits of such policies considering the huge diversity of situations in Europe. The paper will provide an overview on how grasslands and rangelands have been taken into account by the successive CAP reforms. Then it will explains how to promote transition to more sustainable agriculture in the European Union through revised CAP instruments (direct payments, eco-scheme, second pillar etc.) supporting grassland and associated elements (ecological infrastructures at landscape level).

1.2. What place for grasslands and ruminants through scenario studies?

This invited paper will quantify through quantitative analysis the future role and place of grasslands and ruminants that use it for the development of multifunctional food systems addressing healthy food for European population, climate change, biodiversity collapse, protection of natural resources and quality/health of ecosystems according different scenarios. It will analyse the major trade-offs and synergies to achieve the objectives. The paper will also take a critical look at the approaches, methods and tools used to evaluate agro-food systems and the consequences of the choice of the methods and tools for the viability of the studies and suggested avenue of progress.

1.3. Discussion panel: exchange on the different visions

The panel discussion must bring together different points of view but cannot exceed five participants. It also needs a good facilitator. The panel discussion must involve actors who can in various ways change (or at least influence) the place of grasslands in future food systems. It will involve a policy maker (Parliament and/or DG AGRI Director), one-farmer representatives (CEJA), an environmental NGO that will give a societal perspective (EEB?), a food processor and/or distributor.

Session 2: Bundles of services provided by grasslands

The objective of the session is to present the services provided by grasslands, the synergies and trade-off between services and the search of compromises between services considering the diversity of grasslands types, the diversity of management and the value of different ecosystem services of grasslands for different stakeholders. The session will consider productions of different material goods from grassland as animal products, energy, and bio sourced products and consequences on the provision of environmental services. The session will also address the value of different ecosystem services of grasslands for different stakeholders, which can affect the choice of compromise to be found between services.

2.1. The bundles of services provided by grassland for sustainable food systems in Europe

The invited paper will illustrate the concept of bundles of services to evaluate the contribution of grassland and grassland based systems to sustainable food systems. After recalling the concept, the paper will focus on the synergies, trade-offs and compromise to be found between food production and the production of other services (preservation of habitats, floral and faunal biodiversity, carbon storage, reduction of pesticide use, regulation of water quantity and quality, pollinator reservoir, scenic beauty, setting for outdoor activities, etc.). The paper will consider different contexts from extensively managed grasslands that are recognized for their high biodiversity and their social and cultural values to intensively managed grassland. It will also address the value of different ecosystem services of grasslands for different stakeholders.

2.2. The place and roles of grassland in sustainable food systems in other world regions

What can we learn for Europe?  This invited paper will illustrate the concept of bundles of services from case studies in different regions of the world. While knowledge transfer is usually from Europe to other places, it might be extremely interesting to reverse the focus in this paper.

2.3. New valorisations of grassland biomass and consequences on the production of services

Beyond the classical use of grassland as ruminant feed, this invited paper will highlight the potential of the green bio refining of grassland biomass from different grassland types to produce marketable products and bioenergy and to show how we can optimize the use of fixed C in green biomass in cascading approaches through different process streams. The consequence of development of these new use of grassland biomass on environmental performances (GHG emission, nitrate leaching etc.) and land use must be considered as well. Protein (Rubisco) extraction to produce protein rich feed for monogastic (and consequence on performance and meat/eggs quality) or even food for human and the potential use of remaining cake by ruminants and remaining components for other purposes is an important topic for the EGF congress. After a description of cascading approaches and various process streams, it is more important to show the achievements, the potentialities and the limits of different solutions rather than to detail deep knowledge of transformation processes.

Session 3: Using biodiversity to reduce vulnerability and increase resilience of grassland based systems

The objective of this session is to study the expected benefits of biodiversity and system diversity on resilience and reduced vulnerability in a context where grassland-based systems are presented as an appropriate response to new societal demands, whereas from many farmers' perspective, they are seen as vulnerable systems, particularly in the face of climate change and health hazards. The variability of production during the year and between years is also considered as a major issue. The invited papers will consider the role of floristic diversity (mainly at plot scale) and the role of other grazing elements, including animal diversity.

3.1. Multi species based grassland as a source of resilience and reduction of systems vulnerability

This invited paper will will address the roles of the floristic diversity of (semi-natural) grasslands and of the multispecies mixtures of temporary grasslands to find balanced performances between productivity, environment and security facing hazards. Resilience and vulnerability could be approached by looking agronomical aspects (yield, forage quality, etc.) and environmental properties. The paper must consider the large diversity of grasslands, the diversity of geographical situations (Northwest Europe, Central Europe, and dry South Europe), plant functional diversity and management intensity in a context of increasing hazards, notably drought and economic, health or biological hazards.

3.2. Diversity of grassland, grassland management and grazing herd as a source of resilience and reduction of systems vulnerability

This invited paper will address the value of biodiversity at the farm and territorial scale to increase resilience to cope with climate change but also economic hazards and animal health risks. It will consider the effects of the management of grassland and their relative importance in the landscape to manage climate and pest risks. An originality of the paper would also be to consider the interest of animal diversity (species, breeds) to better manage grassland and animal parasitism while offering opportunities for the diversification of sources of income and reduce economic vulnerability of highly specialized systems. Agroforestry can be part of the paper.

Session 4: Looking for synergy between animal, grassland and crops

The session will focus on issues that are less often discussed in EGF congresses although they have a very important role for the sustainability of food systems. The intensification and specialization of farming systems has led to a geographical separation of livestock and cropping areas with the development of intensive livestock farming with confined animals that are now often questioned by society, especially for reasons of animal welfare, and cropping areas with degraded soils and high pesticide use within highly simplified rotations. Consumers perceive pasture-based systems as more natural and better for animal welfare and health than confinement but grazing can also put animals in greater exposure to wildlife, parasites, predation, and heat stress. The designing of innovative mixed farming systems with the introduction of diverse ley pastures into cropping systems can contribute to overcome these limitations but has received little attention in Europe and require new organizations between stakeholders.

4.1. Grassland at the service of livestock welfare and health

This invited paper will address the state of knowledge on the effects of gazing for animal welfare and health (different type of pathologies, parasitism) in various grazing conditions from intensive to extensive systems including harsh grazing conditions and the conditions for maximising benefits for the animals and limiting risks. Grazing favours natural behaviour of the different species and could lead to a reduction in certain pathologies but can also be at the origin of new risks for animal welfare and health. The paper should consider herbivores and if possible free ranging monogastric animals (hens, poultry, pig ...).

4.2. Integration of ley pasture and crop system for a more sustainable agricultural production

This invited paper will focus on the effects of integration of ley pastures and animals in cropping systems for a more sustainable food production. The paper will review and quantify the bundle of services provided by introducing ley pastures and animals into specialized cropping systems and will discuss types of ley pastures and their management liable to promote the services while limiting disservices and ensuring economic and social viability. The paper will also and raise future challenges (including organizational issues) related to introducing ley pastures into cropping systems.

Session 5: Initiatives for the transfer and co-construction of innovations on and for grassland

European projects increasingly associate research, development and stakeholders to co-innovate. The objective of the session will be to take a tour of Europe’s grassland-focus initiatives aimed at promoting knowledge transfer between research and end-users, co-development of innovation in the domain of grassland and grassland management for sustainable food systems and the identification of knowledge gaps. After an introductive invited paper on the reflections carried out on the strategy of implementation of networking projects, the session will provide some illustrations of the diversity of themes, approaches, means of actions and achievements.

5.1. A state of play of the initiatives in Europe

The invited paper will provide an introductory presentation by EIP AGRI on the reflections carried out for the creation of partnerships and the linking of various actors (farmers, advisers, researchers, agribusiness companies, NGOs) through actions aimed at innovation, such as Operational Groups and “Focus Groups”. The presentation will focus on grassland and take stock of the actions carried out within the framework of H2020 (e.g. the focus group on permanent grassland, Inno4Grass project, etc.), and will open up new ambitions for Horizon Europe.

5.2. A brief testimony contribution of a current European project

This session will illustrate knowledge transfer activities and benchmarking and testing findings for a selection of innovations from on-farm activities in the SUPER-G project and more precisely "Benchmarking and testing” work package.

5.3. Spot presentations

Each country could illustrate in a very short presentation (5 min) an achievement, which would allow visualising the diversity of themes, approaches, means of actions and achievements. Regarding the organisation, we can 1) ask for multiple submission from each country and choose among responses to ensure a great diversity; 2) make a call by focusing on a particular theme.

5.4. Debate with the audience