The Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) will launch its latest new grass variety – Caledon at this year’s Winter Fair.
Caledon is an important new addition to AFBI’s impressive intermediate tetraploid perennial ryegrass portfolio, with a heading date of 29th May. On UK trial sites, Caledon has produced particularly high yields of high quality forage, especially under silage management (see Table 1 below). Caledon was specifically bred for high spring growth, enhanced digestibility and good disease resistance.
Table 1. Comparison of AFBI intermediate tetraploid varieties for silage production (data from 2016 Northern Ireland Recommended List).
Disease resistance is becoming increasingly important in Northern Ireland given that foliar diseases, such as rust and leaf spot, were increasingly evident on farms in 2016 and 2017. Caledon will be marketed through Barenbrug UK Ltd, and limited quantities of seed will be available in spring 2018.
Improving grass production through breeding
Grass utilisation on some of the top farms in Northern Ireland is over 12 t DM/ha, but average on farm utilisation remains disappointingly low at approximately 7.5t DM/ha on dairy farms and 4.1 t DM/ha on beef and sheep farms. The financial implications of low grass utilization are significant. AFBI research has shown that improvement of grass utilisation by 1 t DM/ha, combined with improvements in grassland management, has the potential to increase the margin over feed costs by £334/ha on dairy farms or £204/ha on beef farms.
Over the last 30 years, increases in production equivalent to about 0.4% per annum have been achieved within the AFBI grass breeding programme. This means that some of the newest AFBI bred varieties, such as Moira and Glenarm, which were released recently by Barenbrug, are approximately 12% better in terms of yield, than those available three decades ago.
AFBI variety portfolio
The breeding programme at Loughgall, which is jointly funded by DAERA and Barenbrug, has been at the forefront of development of new grasses for many years, with over 30 varieties released and marketed commercially through Barenbrug UK Ltd. AFBI-bred varieties which have been particularly successful include Dundrum, Seagoe, Drumbo, Glenariff and Moyola. These varieties have been widely used across the United Kingdom and Ireland and have made a significant impact on grassland productivity. Along with our latest release, Caledon, even better varieties are in the AFBI pipeline, with an exceptionally good late tetraploid named Ballintoy due for release in 2019.
Looking to the future, and especially post-Brexit, farms in Northern Ireland need to rely more on locally grown grass and less on imported feeds. With this in mind AFBI’s grass breeding programme is clearly focussed on breeding varieties that will use nutrients more efficiently whilst withstanding the increasing risk from foliar diseases. Continued investment by DAERA and Barenbrug in the AFBI Loughgall programme will ensure a steady supply of new varieties like Caledon and Ballintoy, to meet the ever changing needs of the local livestock industry.
AFBI and Barenbrug staff will be available at the Winter Fair to provide more information on the latest new varieties.