European grassland area has been significantly reduced (by 15 Mha) during the last thirty years in favour of the production of fodder maize and other annual crops. Even marginal grasslands tend to be abandoned, particularly in mountainous and Mediterranean areas. The increasing global demand for meat and milk, environmental concerns about the sustainability of intensive production systems and, the European concerns about food quality and safety favour the increasing role of grassland-based ruminant systems in the future. Grasslands are an essential element of sustainable farming systems and have a multifunctional role in producing feed for ruminants and rehabilitating crop lands, conservation of biodiversity and the provision of many ecosystem services, in particular water and soil quality conservation, mitigation of greenhouse gases emission, nitrogen fixation, nutrient cycling and production of renewable energy.
MULTISWARD will conceive, evaluate and promote sustainable ruminant production systems based on the use of grasslands with a high level of multifunctionality in order to optimize the provision of environmental goods and biodiversity preservation, on one hand, and on the other, economic efficiency and provision of quality food. Innovative management strategies will include extension of the grazing period and choice of the most suitable animal genotypes for grassland based systems. This will be achieved by the concerted use of diverse multi-species swards, diverse plant communities at farm and landscape levels and diverse production systems (high inputs, low inputs, organic) encountered across Europe.
MULTISWARD will provide adequate evaluation tools to assess the best ways of combining high production efficiency with optimal provision of regulating and supporting services from grasslands at farm to regional levels. MULTISWARD will also identify and analyse the effects of socio-economic and policy scenarios supporting grassland development or inducing grassland replacement by annual crops in order to support the design of future policies. MULTISWARD will result in increased reliance on grasslands and on multi-species swards for ruminant production contributing to increased sustainability and competitiveness of livestock production systems, increased food security and enhanced environmental goods while securing optimal European grassland acreage.