From grass root level to major sustainability issues - The European grassland scientists meet virtually led by Finland

Helsinki, Finland, serves as the nerve centre of the European grassland scientists on 19 – 21 October 2020, when the European Grassland Federation (EGF) holds its 28th General Meeting. The topics covered start literally from the grass root level but end up with major issues related to climate change, food security, economic sustainability and maintaining biodiversity. The congress is arranged by the University of Helsinki and Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke).

The link between grassland and ruminant research is strong as cattle and sheep are the main consumers of forages. At the same time, novel uses for grassland products are being developed including bioenergy production and variable material uses relying on the development of the green biorefinery concepts. The versatile nature of grassland research requires multidisciplinary approach accompanied with contributions from extension specialists, education, administration and company representatives.

Corona virus forced the Congress to go on-line

Scientific congresses as well as other meetings need to find new ways to operate due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Oral presentations can well be given in virtual format, but networking and brainstorming require more effort and novel ideas. The Congress participants are e.g. taken on a virtual Mid-Congress tour to get acquainted with Finnish countryside and companies.

“Over 300 participants from around Europe have registered for the congress, which is a similar number to previous physical meetings”, says the EGF president Mervi Seppänen from Yara Finland Ltd.

The scientific content is compiled into a massive publication with 232 articles. They include in-depth reviews on variable aspects of grassland science produced by the best experts from around Europe, as well as compact reports on recent research findings. The printed version of the publication would weigh over 2 kg, but now for the first time, it is published solely in electronic format. The publication will be freely available on-line after the Congress.

Grass plays a major role in Finnish agriculture

Grasses cover 30% of the arable land in Finland, as they are well suited to the Boreal conditions. Principal scientist Perttu Virkajärvi (Luke), serving as the chairman of the scientific committee of the congress, sees grasslands as a crucial component in achieving more sustainable agricultural production. The research on the role of grasslands on carbon sequestration and maintenance of biodiversity are actively studied around Europe. Resource use efficiency in grassland systems has significantly increased over the past decades and this can to a large extent be attributed to research and technology development.

“In the EGF Congress we share the latest research results with the whole grassland science community and create new hypotheses to be tested. The issues raised in these meetings have also had a strong impact on societal decision making”, summarizes Virkajärvi, drawing experience from numerous previous congresses.