A high percentage of the forage grasses used for reseeding on local farms have been bred by AFBI, at the Northern Ireland Horticulture and Plant Breeding Station in Loughgall.
AFBI grass trials for disease screening at Loughgall.
While the recent rise in milk prices will in some way offset the increased cost of more expensive concentrates, grass is going to be an increasingly important crop on any NI dairy farm.
Although most farms make maximum use of grass for both grazing and silage, on some farms grass remains under-exploited. Statistics show that the area of grassland under 5 years old has steadily declined over the last two decades. Many of the old ‘worn out’ swards which we see across the Province are unresponsive to fertiliser compared to a new reseed and produce forage which is very inferior in nutritional quality.
With the objective of producing varieties that are high yielding and with improved nutritional quality, AFBI has made considerable investment in research and new laboratory technology which support field testing. Extensive trials at AFBI Loughgall, supported with on-farm trials data, have allowed the development of a new portfolio of varieties specifically bred for use in the Province.
The first of these new AFBI grass varieties, Dunluce, was released in Spring 2007 and has been in strong demand. With a massive yield potential under both silage and grazing, Dunluce is the perfect compliment for some of the new diploid ryegrass and clover varieties from the Loughgall program.
The next generation from AFBI for Spring 2008, are two new varieties, Malone and Tyrella. Malone, an intermediate heading variety, is a tetraploid version of Spelga that was released in 1995 and has been widely used throughout the UK and Ireland. With exceptionally good spring growth and total yield, Malone has the added benefit of having high leaf-spot resistance, a disease which occurred widely during the wet conditions of summer 2007. The entire breeding cycle for Malone has taken almost 14 years, representing a major investment for DARD and Barenbrug, co-funders of the AFBI grass program. The first commercial seed crop of Malone was produced by Jim and Richard Kane at Myroe, Limavady this year and is presently being cleaned by Barenbrug UK Ltd. Demand for Malone will be very high as it is has been added to Recommended Lists throughout the UK and Ireland.
AFBI late-heading diploid grass varieties such as Tyrone, Portstewart, Gilford, Dromore and Portrush have a reputation for good productivity, high digestibility and persistency. Demand for late heading varieties is especially strong in the Republic of Ireland market but according to plant breeder David Johnston, farmers are now requiring late-heading varieties but with high spring growth. “To fulfill this requirement we crossed Spelga, which has very high spring growth, with late heading Dutch material, selecting in the progeny for late-heading plants which had good spring growth. From these plants, after extensive trials on our UK sites and trials with Barenbrug in Holland, we selected the new variety Tyrella”. Spring production of Tyrella is very high, 30% greater than varieties of similar heading date and will suit farms which graze their entire farm in early spring before closing off for silage.
The extensive clover work at Loughgall is a joint development with AFBI, Barenbrug and two New Zealand companies, AgResearch, who bred the well known variety Huia over 50 years ago, and Midlands who specialise in clover seed production.
At AFBI Loughgall, the clover varieties are selected under sheep grazing and cutting trials. Two clear winners to emerge from this program have been Crusader and Barblanca and these are now very widely used in the UK market. The newest variety to be developed is Avalon and the first on-farm crop will be sown on a dairy farm at Loughgall in Spring 2008. “All the new grass and clover varieties being selected by AFBI are first tested on farms around the Province before commercial release” says Gerry Hoppé who has responsibility for the on-farm testing
Contractual arrangements between AFBI and Dutch seed specialists Barenbrug, has brought considerable advantage to the Loughgall program in recent years. As well as providing major trial sites for AFBI varieties at Aberdeen, Evesham and in Continental Europe, cooperation between other breeding stations in the Barenbrug group has given Loughgall breeders access to novel breeding material with valuable characteristics such as disease resistance and winter-active growth. These novel characteristics are of particular importance when breeding varieties to cope with possible future changes in the climate or the way in which we manage farm pastures. A recent arrangement between Barenbrug and the Czech company Oseva Uni provides further opportunity for the AFBI breeders to gain access to novel ryegrass material that may be of advantage perhaps some time in the future.
AFBI will be present at the Winter Fair at Balmoral on 13 December 2007 as part of the DARD stand on the first floor gallery. Both David Johnston and Gerry Hoppé will be on hand to discuss these new grass breeds. Scientists from AFBI Hillsborough and Crossnacreevey will also be able to provide advice on the most economic and efficient productions methods for Dairy farmers.
by David Johnston and Gerard Hoppé, AFBI, Loughgall