A summer update from the PASTORAL project

Tara from Environment Systems discusses the progress from the PASTORAL project over the summer.

A digital tool monitoring pasture growth from satellite data

PASTORAL is a partnership project funded by Innovate UK to develop a digital tool to support farmers to increase farm productivity and carbon efficiency through improved pasture performance and management.

The PASTORAL platform is being co-designed with farmers to increase farm productivity and carbon efficiency. It is led by Environment Systems in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh and Innovative Farmers.

The tool uses satellite data to map and forecast pasture growth at field scale in order to support on-farm decision making on stocking rates, forage budgeting, cutting dates and future planning. It aims to develop a digital solution that can deliver weekly data and insights on current and projected grass biomass and quantify carbon budgets.

Participants discussing the need for reliable estimates of dry matter, particularly in herbal leys.

Conversations about pasture management

Summer has seen the first round of PASTORAL on-farm workshops with beef focus groups in North Yorkshire and Gloucestershire, and a dairy focus group in Somerset.

Workshops allow the project team and participants the opportunity to discuss PASTORAL and guide its development, ensuring the tool meets the needs of its users. They’re also a change to discuss grazing strategies and grass management.

In North Yorkshire, participants shared their thoughts on grass cover maps of the hosting farm. Conversations kept coming back to carbon, with participants keen to have evidence of carbon storage on pastures. A simple score was the order of the day, with grass growth being an interesting additional piece of information that could feed into rotation planning.

On a dairy farm in Somerset a few days later, the conversation centred firmly around the need for reliable estimates of dry matter per field or paddock to support day to day decision making. A simple value per field was in order, with kg DM/ha or kg DM/field answering questions such as, ‘what field should I graze next’ and ‘where do I need to put the electric fence’.

The value of detailed information for long term planning

While simple information was key for day-to-day decision making, participants also discussed the value of having more detailed information to look at performance through the season to feed into longer term planning. This would allow monitoring of long-term trends and quantify the effects of altered management practices, evidencing changes in sward growth and production, and carbon storage over time. Hoping that PASTORAL will reliably monitor diverse leys, where plate meter can prove unreliable, and reduce variation seen in plate meter readings.

A similar conversation was had a few weeks later in Gloucestershire, where the conversions returned to focus on beef systems. Participants shared their reluctance to plate meter, with expense, time and limited confidence on anything but ryegrass cited as barriers. The value of having data on grass production was recognised, with participants excited that PASTORAL will be filling the void.

Positive feedback so far

Over 50 farmers have registered fields in PASTORAL, at no cost and with no ongoing commitment, allowing us to test and develop the tool. Currently we are providing basic maps showing the green leaf area, the amount of vegetation, across fields, with additional data being added as the project progresses. Biomass and carbon data will be delivered to all participating farmers in September.


Example of the green leaf area maps received by PASTORAL participants.

Feedback has been positive, with maps providing confidence and reassurance for what participants are seeing in the field. To date the feedback from participants has been very encouraging; 93% of respondents said they’d like to receive this data regularly.

Opportunity to join the project

We want to grow this group further so are actively seeking new participants.

Registration is open to all grassland farmers and involves completing a short survey and sharing some information on the fields to be monitored, including location and sward type. In partnership with Innovative Farmers, we are hosting a series of webinars and on-farm workshops, with beef and sheep focus groups in Yorkshire and Gloucestershire, allowing participants to find out more about the project and share thoughts.

To register, complete our short survey or get in touch with Tara O’Neill, the Project Officer, for more information on 07385 650 917 or pastoral@envsys.co.uk.

From the farmers

“Roll on more info!” Paul, Warwickshire beef farmer.

Krystyna, Wiltshire beef farmer, “Confirms my recent grazing and cutting, wish I had more fields in the project”

“PASTORAL would be useful to help plan where to start paddock grazing in each field,” Becky, Shropshire dairy farmer.

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