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Farm-gate nutrient balances of grassland-based milk production systems with full- or part-time grazing and fresh herbage indoor feeding at variable concentrate levels

Abstract

Farm-gate balances for nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) were used to determine the potential nutrient surplus and nutrient-use efficiency of three grassland-based milk production systems. These were either full-time grazing (FG) or part-time grazing with indoor feeding of fresh herbage with low (IF) or substantial concentrate allowance (IFplus). Data collected over 3 years were used (a) from 3 × 8 commercial dairy farms, and (b) from a controlled experiment. On FG, IF and IFplus farms, the N surplus (net input minus net output) was 78.6, 75.1 and 138.2 kg N ha− 1 a− 1, respectively, and N use efficiency (NUE; net output/net input) was 0.33, 0.44 and 0.34, respectively. Annual P inputs and outputs were relatively balanced, with a higher P use efficiency (PUE) found for FG (1.19) and IF (0.97) farms than for IFplus farms (0.57). The most important input sources, apart from biological N2 fixation and atmospheric N deposition, were mineral fertilizer N, concentrate N/P in IFplus, and animal manure P. Results from the controlled experiment confirmed most of these findings. In general, the IF provided an efficient nutrient use at a relatively low surplus. Accounting for off-farm losses associated with feed inputs and manure export reduced the system NUE and PUE substantially. The large variability in nutrient-use efficiency among the commercial farms indicates a clear potential for improvement. The average N surplus could be reduced by approximately 40% in reference to the best performing farms in each system.

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Acknowledgements

The authors are grateful to all farm managers who participated in this study, and to Esther Mulser, Lukas Kneubühler and Pascale Sperling (BFH, Zollikofen) for the assistance in the data collection and processing. We are grateful to Simon Ineichen for the comments on the manuscript and Elizabeth Steele for English proof-reading of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Beat Reidy.

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Akert, F.S., Dorn, K., Frey, H. et al. Farm-gate nutrient balances of grassland-based milk production systems with full- or part-time grazing and fresh herbage indoor feeding at variable concentrate levels. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 117, 383–400 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10705-020-10072-y

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10705-020-10072-y

Keywords

  • Nitrogen
  • Phosphorus
  • Nutrient balances
  • Milk production systems
  • Grazing
  • Fresh herbage
  • Efficiency