The AFBI grass breeding team at Loughgall will be presenting the latest information on their varieties in a field demonstration and in a ‘research marquee display’ at the AFBI Hillsborough Dairy Innovation Open Day on 6th June. This is an excellent opportunity to learn more about the key features of these market leading varieties and discuss with the breeders who created them how you can select the best ones to improve your own herd’s grazing and silage utilization.
The AFBI ryegrass breeding programme at Loughgall has been developing ryegrass varieties for best performance under conditions in Northern Ireland and throughout the UK for more than 25 years, producing a number of successful and well-known varieties, including Navan, Spelga, Tyrella and Portstewart. These varieties are persistent and high-yielding for grazing and conservation and are specifically bred under local conditions for best performance on farms in Northern Ireland.
The progress and success of the breeding programme in AFBI over the years is such that modern varieties now produce 10% more in yield per hectare than varieties used twenty years ago. This translates directly to increased grass utilization and decreased feed costs for farmers who regularly reseed with new improved varieties.
AFBI breeding objectives
The objective of the AFBI ryegrass breeding programme is to produce locally adapted, high yielding and disease-resistant grasses to improve livestock output from local farms. In the past, the main emphasis was on overall yield, but today emphasis is also placed on early spring growth, disease resistance, herbage quality and winter hardiness. Quality is of particular importance, and considerable effort has been invested in breeding for improved digestibility at every stage in the growing cycle, as highly digestible forages produce more meat and milk. Selecting grasses which produce fewer seed heads in mid-season has also been a key aspect of the programme, as is the palatability of the sward since this is a key driver of grass intake by the animal. In order to ensure high palatability, all new AFBI varieties are trialled on local farms, where their performance under grazing can be monitored.
Over the past 25 years, a portfolio of almost 30 AFBI forage grass varieties have excelled and are included on recommended lists and have been sold across the UK and Ireland through Barenburg, AFBI’s commercial partner. Important new releases from this portfolio include tetraploid varieties such Ballintoy and Caledon, both of which have achieved high standards for total yield, spring growth and quality. The late-heading variety Ballintoy produces high yields of quality grass for both grazing and silage, with particularly good spring growth, and the intermediate-heading variety Caledon also produces high total yields of high quality forage, but is especially productive under silage management. New varieties are continually progressing through the AFBI breeding pipeline, with names to watch for the future including Galgorm, Callan and a new hybrid variety, Bannfoot.
Grass provides Northern Ireland with a point of differentiation as well as a major advantage in terms of competitiveness, since locally grown grass has the potential to offset expensive concentrate feed on local dairy, beef and sheep farms. However, in order to support local farmers, AFBI’s grass breeding programme must adapt to focus on new objectives of future importance to the local farming industry. Such factors include production of new, nutrient-efficient varieties and those that are more palatable to livestock. Continued investment by DAERA and Barenbrug in the AFBI Loughgall grass breeding programme will ensure a steady supply of new varieties like Caledon and Ballintoy, to meet the ever changing needs of the local livestock industry and ensure it has the tools to produce cost competitive, healthy meat and milk with a reduced environmental footprint.
For more information on the event and to register, please visit the AFBI website www.afbini.gov.uk/events or phone 02890 255 636. In the interests of biosecurity those attending are asked to wear clean clothing not previously worn while in direct contact with their own animals. Outdoor workboots should not be worn. Protective overalls and footwear will be provided.