Forage Grass Breeding in AFBI

Area of Expertise:

Set up over 60 years ago, the forage grass programme develops new varieties which are particularly well adapted to environmental conditions in the UK and Ireland.

Primary objectives

Grass Breeding programme at AFBI Loughgall
Primary objectives of the programme include selection for improved yield, persistence, resistance to diseases and nutritional quality.  Increasing effort is being directed at breeding varieties for use in Continental Europe, the United States and New Zealand. The current portfolio of over 30 varieties is marketed by the Dutch company, Barenbrug, under an exclusive commercial partnership arrangement which has been in place since 1991. This commercial linkage provides a royalty stream to AFBI and also links the institute to a global network of research organisations/trial facilities.

  • Grasses for low input and organic production
  • Variety testing facilities in England and Scotland
  • Employing new technologies including NIRS and digital imaging
  • Close liaison with the agricultural industry through commercial partnership.

Grass breeding objectives

The original objective for the Grass Breeding programme was to produce locally adapted, high yielding and disease-resistant grasses which would help to improve livestock output from local farms and also to supply the seed industry with replacements for the old Irish (ecotype) varieties.  It was recognised that while there were numerous options for helping farmers improve their grassland output, the provision of locally bred grasses was one of the most cost-effective ways of achieving this.

Revised project objectives

During the 63 year period since this project was set up, there has been considerable change in the management of local grassland farms and the agricultural and environmental policies underpinning these changes.  Examples of change are the move from hay to silage, the introduction of rotational grazing, improved soil fertility through the use of fertilisers and slurry and a greater awareness of nutritional quality. Through close links with local farmers, the seed industry, liaison with CAFRE and Teagasc grassland technologists, the objectives of the breeding programme are routinely discussed and reviewed so as to meet the needs of the industry.

A major strength of the programme is its close integration within the world leading Barenbrug breeding group, which gives access to new crossing material which has many favourable attributes such as winter hardiness and disease resistance.