Farmers compete for the best wet grasslands

Farmers compete for the best wet grasslands

25 June 2014

Since 2010, French farmers are invited to compete by producing the most colourful flowery hay meadow (“concours Prairies Fleuries”). The competition is organized close to the Ramsar Secretariat by two adjacent Regional Nature Parks on the French and Swiss side of the Jura mountains (Parcs du Haut-Jura et Jura Vaudois). They run a transboundary competition for farmers in France and Switzerland (with slightly different agricultural policies and public subsidies). This year, the competition is about who produces the best wet hay meadow, inspired by World Wetlands Day placing a focus on the need for the wetland and agricultural sectors to work together and become partners for growth.

The multidisciplinary jury evaluating the wet grassland plots in the French-Swiss Orbe river floodplain and its sloping hills.

In the mountainous area of the Jura with widespread cattle farming for milk and cheese production, the competing farmers are eager to show that their method of cutting and grazing the wet plots of their permanent grasslands is producing the best possible plant composition for fodder production. A plant composition that is interesting from a productivity perspective (evaluated by agronomists) while also harbouring a rich biodiversity with high numbers of flowers, butterflies and other insects (evaluated by ecologists). Meadows with plants that produce sufficient nectar to satisfy pollinating bees and the expectations of fruit and honey producers (evaluated by beekeepers).

The Ramsar Secretariat was invited to co-preside the multi-stakeholder jury who visited on 16 -17 June 2014 the wet grassland plots of eleven farmers. The non-intensively managed permanent grasslands evaluated by the jury range from partially drained hay meadows to near-natural fen mires. The winners, who will be announced in a public meeting later this year, had to convince the jury, strictly applying the national evaluation rules (in French, including a video), that their way of exploiting the wet grassland was the best one to maximize fodder production as well as biodiversity while maintaining the specific local character of the wet grassland in its surrounding landscape.

The aim of the “Prairies Fleuries” competition is to show that the very existence of wet hay meadows depends on sustainable agricultural management adapted to the local context. Traditionally, farmers have been adapting the frequency of cutting and grazing, and avoiding using fertilizers except limited amounts of manure. This traditional form of agriculture created a particular wetland type, adapted to the local hydrological and climatic conditions, that is worthwhile to maintain in the Jura, in France and across many regions of Europe. This business model has demonstrated to have substantial cultural, economic and biodiversity values. Why don’t you look for the best managed wet grasslands in your region?

Report and photos by Tobias Salathé, Ramsar Senior Advisor, Europe