AFBI grass varieties reach new heights

Date published: 10 September 2014

Area of Expertise:

Seed sales of AFBI grass varieties, which are marketed exclusively through Barenbrug Ltd, have exceeded 3,000 tonnes per year in the UK and Irish markets for the first time. AFBI’s grass breeding programme is jointly funded by DARD and Barenbrug Ltd. The use of AFBI varieties has increased annually as farmers appreciate the value and benefits of varieties which have been selected under local conditions and tested through the Recommended List process.

Use of AFBI grass varieties continues to increase annually

Although the majority of farms make maximum use of grass for both grazing and silage, on some farms grass remains under-exploited, barely reaching 50% of potential utilisation.  Recent DARD census figures show that the area of grassland under 5 years old has steadily declined over the last two decades, although there was a considerable increase in reseeding in 2013, following the very difficult spring conditions.  Most farmers are well aware that old ‘worn out’ swards contaminated with weed grasses, such as Yorkshire fog and meadow grass, have lower productivity and make poorer quality silage compared with reseeds.  This lost production must be replaced with more expensive bought in feeds.

The overall objective of the AFBI grass breeding programme is to produce varieties that are high yielding and have improved nutritional quality. New varieties are tested extensively at AFBI Loughgall, backed up  by on-farm experience throughout Northern Ireland and  supported by data from trial sites in England, Scotland, the Netherlands and France.

The varieties bred at AFBI Loughgall include Dunluce, released in spring 2007, which has always been in strong demand and is highly rated for both its production and high digestibility.  With a massive yield potential under both silage and grazing, Dunluce (which is one of the top varieties in the Irish Grass Index) is the perfect complement for some of AFBI’s new diploid ryegrasses such as Copeland, Tyrella and Drumbo.

The next generation of AFBI varieties includes two new releases, Clanrye and Seagoe, which were recently released onto the Irish market.  These varieties have given consistent performance across the UK and Ireland, producing high yields of quality forage. Late-heading AFBI grass varieties such as Tyrella, Portstewart and Drumbo have a reputation for good productivity, high digestibility and persistency.  Demand for late heading varieties is especially strong in the Irish market.  Two recent varieties from AFBI, Glenarm and the tetraploid Caledon, are expected to set new standards for productivity.  The spring production of these varieties is very high which will allow an early grazing prior to a large first silage cut in late May.

The improved prices for milk during the last year have helped to offset the increased cost of expensive concentrate feeding, but efficient use of grass remains the key to profitability on dairy and beef farms in the UK.  AFBI is committed to helping improve grassland productivity in Northern Ireland through the breeding of improved grass varieties.

Farmers should always use the Recommended List to inform decisions on which grass varieties are most suitable for their particular enterprise.
All commercial enquiries for AFBI-bred grasses should be made to Barenbrug UK Ltd (Tel. David Linton 07740 063315).

Mr David Johnston, AFBI’s Head of Grass Breeding is available for interview by contacting the AFBI Press Office on 028 9025 5636.

You can speak to AFBI Scientists at the National Ploughing Championships, being held from 23-25th September in Ratheniska, Stradbally, Co Laois.  AFBI staff will be located in the DARD NI Exhibition at Block 1, Row 23 and Stand No. 328.  For more information on the National Ploughing Championships please see

by David Johnston, Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, Loughgall

Notes to editors: 

AFBI carries out high quality technology research and development, statutory, analytical, and diagnostic testing functions for DARD and other Government departments, public bodies and commercial companies.

AFBI's Vision is “Scientific excellence in Northern Ireland …  serving the world”.

All media enquiries to AFBI Press Office.


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