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Coastal grass belt: a paradigm for grass-based livestock husbandry, May 20, 2022 Adjust font size:

The construction of coastal grass belt around Bohai Rim not only improves soil quality but also provides sufficient forage for livestock, and it helps promote local ecological conservation and green development, according to an article lately published on Bulletin of Chinese Academy of Sciences. 

With the title of “‘Coastal grass belt’ as paradigm for grass-based livestock husbandry around Bohai Bay,” the article was written by Hou Ruixing and Li Jing, associate professors of the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

The article points out that the Bohai Rim has a large area of medium- and low-yielding fields and unutilized saline-alkali land. The conventional agriculture industry suffers from low output, lack of technical models, low efficiency, and excessive water consumption. Therefore, a new utilization model for these lands is in urgent need. The construction of a coastal grass belt which integrates forage grass planting, grass product processing and livestock breeding, is an effective solution to the bottleneck problem in the development of saline-alkali lands. Furthermore, it can improve the water and soil utilization efficiency and agricultural output value, thus ameliorating the conflicts between the regional green development and conventional agriculture transformation,” it says.

The concept of coastal grass belt was put forward by Li Zhensheng, an academician of CAS, based on his experiences in amendment and utilization of moderate and severe saline-alkali lands in coastal areas over the past two decades. The core content of this concept is to create a new green development mode for grass-based livestock husbandry on saline-alkali lands by cultivating high-quality and appropriate grass for forage and ecological conservation, innovating water-saving and soil amendment technologies as well as developing modern cultivation and breeding systems, according to the distance from the offshore, soil salinity conditions and the dynamics of water and salt.

The aims of the project can be defined as: (1) the coordination between ecological protection and the green development of grass-based livestock husbandry in fragile coastal zones; (2) the coordination between suitable water and soil allocation and efficient forage grass planting; and (3) the coordination between the transformation and upgrading of traditional grass-based livestock husbandry and the development of local science and technology services.

The article illustrates that the distribution of natural resources is uneven in the coastal area, enabling the construction of three different kinds of grass belts from offshore to inland, i.e. the high-salt, medium-salt, and low-salt grass belt. Take the construction practices in the Yellow River Delta as an example. By screening salt-tolerant forage grass genotypes and other plants cultivars, a series of technical studies and models will be carried out in order to achieve the structural optimization of forage grass cultivation and high quality of a crop-livestock system in the YRD, which in the end, leads to the foundation of an innovative grass-based livestock husbandry model with the characteristics of the Yellow River Delta. To be specific, the technologies include integration of water—fertilizer—salt regulation and the supporting planting techniques, grass-grain rotation, grass product processing, feed formula, healthy farming of cow/mutton sheep, waste recycling and so forth. Characterized by the synthesis of economic, ecological, and great social benefits, this model can serve the YRD and other agricultural regions in the rapid development of grass-based livestock husbandry in China.

The coastal grass belt can generate ecological benefits, the article believes. The planting of forage grass can improve soil physicochemical properties. “Compared with the aeolian sandy soil in the Yellow River floodplain, the soil in the forage grass-planting area has decreased bulk density and increased total porosity, capillary porosity, and non-capillary porosity,” it says. Planting forage grass can also reduce water loss and mitigate soil erosion. “When there is sufficient precipitation, the soil conservation capacity of forage grass is 300–800 times higher than that of crops. Grassland can intercept 60%–90% of the precipitation. Given the same precipitation, the runoff amount from the land growing forage grass reduces by 95% compared with that of bare land,” it explains. Moreover, planting grass can regulate soil and air temperature, increase air humidity, decrease soil moisture evaporation, purify the air, and contribute to weed control and the reduction of pesticide use.

Coastal grass belt can also bring economic and industrial benefits. Studies show that comparing to grain crops, forage grass can more effectively employ natural resources, such as solar energy and land. “In addition, forage grass does not have strict requirement for soil conditions. By planting forage grass in the areas not suitable for grain cultivation, farmers can obtain a certain amount of forage. Meanwhile, it helps to improve soil properties and prevent water loss and soil erosion, thus resulting in great economic and ecological benefits,” it elaborates. “Forage has a comprehensive nutrition and a high feed conversion rate. In the same growth season, forage grass can obtain higher nutritional yield and protein content than crops and conventional feed.” Furthermore, the development of grass farming will trigger an arable land revolution in agriculture, which not only motivates an improvement in agricultural system, but exploits grassland resources, unleashes huge food resource potential, separates food production for human and livestock, and thus ensuring the food security.

To support the construction of the coastal grass belt around Bohai Rim, the article highlights the building of a technology innovation platform and capacity enhancement, the principal of ecology priority and high-quality development, and the allocation of resources and space to promote the development of modern smart farming and animal husbandry.