AgriLife Research Develops New Lines of Cool-season Grasses

Breeding lines of summer-dormant cool-season grasses suited for the Rolling Plains are ready for seed increase after four years of improvement at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center near Vernon.
calendar icon 29 October 2013
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Dr Dariusz Malinowski, a Texas A&M AgriLife Research forage cropping systems scientist in Vernon, explains differences in summer drought survival between summer-dormant and traditional, summer-active cool-season perennial forage grasses. [Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo by Kay Ledbetter]

Dr Dariusz Malinowski, a Texas A&M AgriLife Research forage cropping systems scientist, began work in 2000 with cool-season perennial grasses for the Rolling Plains region in collaboration with Grasslanz Technology Ltd. in New Zealand. In 2009, the collaboration turned its focus to breeding summer-dormant, cool-season grasses.

Dr Malinowski is now ready to send his first Texas breeding lines back to New Zealand for seed increase in 2014 to ensure a high quality seed is available for worldwide evaluation and studies, he said. Final evaluation studies will be conducted in the US and several other countries.

Others who are a part of the research effort are Dr Bill Pinchak, AgriLife Research ruminant nutritionist; Dr. Yves Emendack, AgriLife Research post-doctoral plant pathologist; and Steve Brown, Texas Foundation Seed Service general manager, all of Vernon. The project is funded by Grasslands Innovation Ltd. of New Zealand.

Early on, AgResearch Grasslands in New Zealand was testing a cultivar eventually released as Fletcha, Dr Malinowski said. He was working with Dr Pinchak at the time on wheat grasses "and we didn't have too much luck because they only lasted for one or two seasons. When we saw the Fletcha growing here, we began working with AgResearch and they sent us more lines."

The group is trying to find forages to fill the grazing niche needed during October to December, a time when cattlemen are waiting for wheat to grow in the fall for forage, and again from March through May if wheat is produced for grain, Dr Malinowski said.

"Our major goal has been to develop cultivars of summer-dormant tall fescue, orchard grass and perennial ryegrass with superior persistence, forage productivity and disease resistance, and tolerance to drought and high temperatures in summer," he said.

"Our previous, long-term (10 years) studies have shown that summer-dormant, cool-season perennial grasses are perfectly adapted to the environments of the Southern Great Plains and incomparably more resistant to summer drought than other introduced cool-season perennial forage grasses."

The project now has three tall fescue and three orchard grass breeding lines in the final stages of cultivar development. In addition, two synthetic lines of perennial ryegrass with exceptional tolerance to high temperatures are being developed and are ready for final selection in New Zealand, he said.

Dr Malinowski said once the nucleus seed is increased in New Zealand, it will take about three years to evaluate the cultivars in the US and other countries before the seed will be available to producers.

The tall fescue and orchard grass base populations are owned by AgriLife Research, while the ryegrass base populations originate from the US Department of Agriculture-Germplasm Resources Information Network, he said.

The three lines of tall fescue being developed and evaluated are bred with different uses in mind, Dr Malinowski said. One will be suitable for grazing by cattle or horses, another by sheep and the third will contain a friendly endophyte. Endophyte is a fungus in the plant that may improve the ability to tolerate abiotic stresses such as drought, as well as improve resistance to insect pressure.

In the orchard grass trials, the three lines also are bred for different uses, he said. For example, they differ in maturity, plant structure and tillering rate for grazing by cattle or sheep.

The two synthetic lines of ryegrass being developed are based on three accessions from the Mediterranean Basin, with one being an early maturing line and the other, late maturing, Dr Malinowski said. The pre-nucleus seed of the early maturing selection will be produced at Vernon next year, while the nucleus seed of the late-maturing selection will be further increased in New Zealand.

October 2013

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