Climatic, soil, and vegetation drivers of forage yield and quality differ across the first three growth cycles of intensively managed permanent grasslands
Perotti, E.; Huguenin-Elie, O.; Meisser, M.; Dubois, S.; Probo, M.; Mariotte, P.
European Journal of Agronomy 122: 126194
ISSN/ISBN: 1161-0301 DOI: 10.1016/j.eja.2020.126194
Understanding the agroecological mechanisms that determine forage yield and quality in intensively managed permanent grasslands is crucial to optimize management and provide environmental and economic benefits to society. In this study, we assessed the relative contribution of climatic, soil and vegetation drivers on forage yield and quality in nine different frequently defoliated and fertilized permanent grasslands used for silage production, that were representative of diverse environmental conditions in Switzerland. Temperature and precipitation, forage yield and quality (i.e., fibers, lignin, carbohydrates, N, P and K contents), relative proportion of plant functional groups, as well as soil nutrient availability and moisture were measured in 2018 (a particularly dry year) during the first three growth cycles. Linear-mixed effect models were performed to test differences among growth cycles on all measured variables and the relationships among them for each cycle. Moreover, a multiple factor analysis (MFA) was performed for each growth cycle to investigate the complex relationships among different sets of variables. Overall, the growth cycle significantly affected all variables, except for forage P content that remained stable over time. Most of the variability in forage yield and quality was explained by climatic conditions and plant functional groups proportion with, however, differences among growth cycles. In the first growth cycle, forage yield and quality were mainly related to the proportion of grasses, precipitation and temperature, then by the proportion of grasses and temperature in the second growth cycle, and finally, by soil nitrogen availability, precipitation and proportion of grasses in the third growth cycle. Overall, in the range of the studied conditions, we found very limited impact of soil nutrient availability on forage yield and quality, except soil N availability during the third growth cycle. Our findings may help prioritize grassland management interventions at specific times during the growing season.