Forage assessment for intensification of beef cattle production in Vietnam

December 2, 2019

As part of our efforts to support and encourage young Australians in study, careers and volunteering in international agricultural research, the Crawford Fund State Committees proudly support our Student Awards.  

Throughout the past year, we have enjoyed sharing the journey of our 2018 recipients of these Awards as they travelled to their host countries to research and explore their chosen topic areas and gain international agricultural research experience and expertise. We have almost heard from all of our 2018 recipients, and their experiences have been diverse and overwhelmingly positive. You can read more here, where we have featured the experiences of:

Thanks to The Crawford Fund Tasmania Committee, we share with you our latest summary of University of Tasmania student Melinda Sward’s experience associated with ACIAR projects related to beef cattle production in Vietnam.

Melinda Sward is undertaking an Associate Degree in Agribusiness at the University of Tasmania and she travelled to Vietnam for two weeks to undertake work in forage assessment for “Intensification of beef cattle production in upland cropping systems in Northwest Vietnam”.

“The aim of the forage project, which sits within the larger livestock intensification project, was to investigate the efficacy of growing temperate oats in the sub-tropical environment for livestock feed utilising residual moisture from harvested rice cropping areas,” said Melinda.

“I visited several research institutions involved in forage and livestock research, including the Thai Nguyen University of Agriculture and Forestry (TUAF), where they showed me the university and their offsite farms that had elephant grass growing to feed the cattle. TUAF also includes a buffalo and horse research facility.

“I also visited the National Institute of Animal Science (NIAS) in Hanoi and met with all the people involved in the project and toured their research and study facilities. After NIAS, we met with researchers at the Northern Mountainous Agriculture and Forestry Science Institute (NOMAFSI) in Phu Tho, who presented their research, and their input in the project and took me on a tour showing me farms of different grass varieties, buffalo, tea trees, mangos, peanut farms, bananas and many more different fruit types.

“My initial proposal was to work with the project team to investigate temperate legumes, but unfortunately the seed did not arrive in time to run the trials in this growing period, so I spent my time with some architecture students and researchers undertaking an oat trial.”

The group of architecture students from Tasmania were also working on the ACIAR project, but in the area of cattle shelters. As a result, Melinda briefly visited the Hanoi Architectural University and learnt about what they are doing, including the project building cattle shelters for farmers. They use the word Agri-tecture as the joining of two disciplines: Agriculture and Architecture.

The group then travelled to Tuan Giao in Dien Bien province and visited several different farms, saw the trial sites and interviewed farmers.

Many cattle farmers follow their cattle around all day to allow them to have access to sufficient feed. Hopefully, the results of the forage trials can help farmers avoid this inefficient use of their time by providing valuable and easily accessible feed for their cattle.

“As part of my research I spoke directly to the farmers to get feedback on their farm and their productivity. Most farmers said they wanted to improve the future line of cattle; they wanted to improve the growth and quality of the grass to feed their cattle; and, they wanted to bring in new advanced technologies to improve the farms working efficiency.

Most farmers with cattle also had buffalo, pigs and chickens and grew annual cash crops such as maize. The dominant grass variety used for feeding the cattle was elephant grass, although the planting was not regular or enough for year-long supply.

Treatments for the oat trial included water/irrigation and planting date. Yield was then to be assessed from different harvesting times and frequency. The trials had only just been established so we only undertook very preliminary assessment of germination.

Early stage oat trials underway in Tuan Gioa, Dien Bien province. Source: Melinda Sward

“I really enjoyed learning about how forages fitted within the larger beef project and how much Vietnamese agriculture is growing. I also learnt that whilst Vietnam is different to Australia in terms of culture, food, the cities, their homes and farms, farmers all over are still looking for solutions to feed their livestock when water is limited and always keen to improve how they farm.”

“I would like to start with thanking the Crawford Fund for the generous scholarship that allowed me to travel to Vietnam to learn about the agricultural projects that are being conducted,” she concluded.