Forage Breeding 

Breeding of forage grasses and legumes to enhance the sustainability of grassland agriculture in the UK

Background

The livestock sector in the UK faces considerable challenges. These include the need to maintain competitive, economically viable farms whilst at the same time reducing environmental impacts. With regard to the latter, major drivers include the need to improve water quality in UK waterways and the need to respond to the challenge of climate change both in terms of mitigation and adaptation.  Genetic improvement of forage crops has played a significant role in the development of UK livestock farming over the last eighty years. This work will allow new varieties of these crops to contribute to the new priorities for grassland farmers in the UK. This project is based at IBERS, Aberystwyth University a world leading centre for plant breeding of forage grasses and clovers.

Objectives

This work will develop new varieties of the main species of UK grasslands: perennial ryegrass, Italian ryegrass, white and red clover.  In doing so it will develop a programme unique in the world in utilising state of the art genetic approaches, underpinned by genomic knowledge, for the  improvement of outbreeding, perennial forage species directed at reduced environmental footprint as well as increased productivity and animal performance.

Within the context of contributing to the maintenance of economically viable dairy, sheep and beef farms the work will focus on developing new varieties that will contribute to;

  1. Reduced nitrogen losses both directly through leaching into waterways (from soil and silo) and as a result of inefficient conversion of plant protein in the rumen.
  2. Reduced phosphorus losses through increased plant phosphorus (P) efficiency, enhanced ability to grow on low P soils and reducing overland flows of P containing sediments.
  3. Reduced gaseous emissions focusing on plant improvement to allow more efficient processing of plant material in the rumen and reductions in nitrous oxide, methane and ammonia emissions.
  4. Adaptations for more efficient water uptake and use to allow maintenance of grassland productivity and quality in the face of the likelihood of reduced summer rainfall.

Expected Benefits

This work will benefit livestock farmers in the UK. Varieties developed will be commercially available to all farmers and will allow significant financial savings through reduced fertiliser use, more efficient animal production and enhanced capability of grassland swards to withstand the impacts of climate change.

More broadly the work will contribute to reduced greenhouse gas emissions and enhanced water quality.

This project is funded by a variety of organisations including Defra, HCC, EBLEX Ltd, QMS, LMC (Northern Ireland), Germinal Holdings Ltd and British Grassland Society.

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