It's not often that politics and grasses meet.

But that's what's occurred in South America where the government of Uruguay has established a Grassland Board to actively encourage the protection of native grasslands.

Marcelo Pereira Machin is an agronomist specialising in native pastures, is the coordinator of the grassland program in the Uruguay national extension service and is also the president of the Grasslands Board.

Grasslands are the main landscape feature of Uruguay.

Six years ago 70 per cent of Uruguay was covered in native grasslands, but today, it's 55 per cent and the downward trend is tipped to continue.

The grasslands are rich in biodiversity, they are home to 450 different grasses and all up, 2,500 species if you include small herbs and trees.

"The biodiversity is very high, that's why our pastures are really, really resilient" [to climate and rainfall variability].

He says increasing intensification of agriculture in Uruguay from within the cattle industry and from other industries, is putting native grasslands under pressure.

"They are disappearing because forestry, dairyfarms and cropping are increasing", he said.

"Although in native pasture people are intensifying, they are buying [stockfeed] to feed the cattle. We have the same number of cattle in a smaller area".

Low input native grasslands forms the backbone of the country's beef and sheep industries and according to Marcelo, underpin the country's competitiveness in international beef markets.

He welcomes the creation of the Grassland Board as an opportunity to revitalise native pastures.

"For some people, especially for me, it is nice that the government is recognising that one of the most important things [for the ] competitiveness of our country in international markets, is due to [our] native pasture because we have low inputs.

So we are able to compete with other countries because of native pasture", he said.

The bulk of Uruguay's beef is exported to the US, Europe, Israel, Venezuela and Marcelo says every year they are producing more.

This year he says they expect to export 500,000 tonnes of carcase weight of meat.


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