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NEW GRASS SPECIES IMPRESS

NEW GRASS SPECIES IMPRESS

Published: Monday, April 27, 2015
Category: Archive

Pearce Seeds Agronomist John Harris who has had farm strip trial and observation plots of Festuloliums and IRG in Devon has been impressed with the way they have performed. The following article which focussed on the latest thoughts on the new grass species appeared in the British Farmer and Grower in the South West Edition in May.

 

Festuloliums the hybrid crosses between ryegrasses and fescues have been available for nearly 10 years however due to commercial availability have only been trialled or used on a limited basis.  Improvements in the breeding programme has increased availability so that in recent years the true potential of Festuloliums and how they can be integrated into grassland systems may now be realised.

Having first been crossed in the 1970s, Festuloliums exploit the strengths of both their parent varieties.  Primarily the grass species of Meadow Fescue and tall fescue are used in the breeding programmes, with the Meadow Fescue from the northern European climate offering winter hardiness and yields in less than ideal conditions.  Whilst breeding programmes with the tall fescues on the other hand offer drought resistance and heat tolerance due to originating from the warmer temperate and sub-tropical climes.  Breeders are looking to improve yield, palatability and digestibility of these by crossing them with Perennial Ryegrass or Italian Ryegrass (IRG).

The use of genetic indicators for selecting parent lines as part of a breeding programme has dramatically reduced the number of crosses required to find potential new varieties and thereby sped up the breeding programmes.

Trials results from all breeders of Festuloliums, indicates that there is definite potential from these new varieties of grass to supply high quality feed and lots of it.  Yields of Festuloliums regularly out yield IRG leys by up to 2t of Dry Matter(DM)/ha. One variety, Perseus, a meadow fescue / IRG cross, yielded 23t DM/ha with 22% protein.  This variety, which would last up to 3 years could be used as a direct substitute for IRG in a red clover ley to increase the grass yields from Red Clover leys in the third year.

Pearce Seeds Agronomist John Harris who has had farm strip trial and observation plots of Festuloliums and IRG in Devon has been impressed with the way they have performed “On one strip trial which is at 700 feet above sea level and on heavy soil was cut 5 times last year.  After each cut the Festuloliums regrew quicker than the IRG.  When we examined the field coming out of winter the IRG was covered in crown rust, however all four Festulolium varieties were clean and noticeably darker in colour.” 

The Festuloliums are noted for their increased disease resistance improving the longevity of a ley.  The cleanliness of all four varieties in the trial compared to the IRG is a reflection of the genetic disease resistance of these varieties.

Mr Harris continues “The key to successfully using a Festulolium is to identify the parent lines and the traits they are likely to exploit.  For example Perseus has the IRG parentage for high yields and bulk, whereas another variety Lofa, which was first introduced to the UK market 10 years ago is a Tall Fescue, IRG and Hybrid IRG cross.  This should be used more as a cutting and grazing variety.  Lofa is deep rooted and therefore more drought resistance from the Tall Fescue.  This can be used as a direct replacement where you would be using a tetraploid perennial ryegrass – you can expect 5 years production from the variety.” 

With promises of additional yields and quality, the inclusion of Festuloliums should be considered by livestock farms that are trying to push on with their yields and improve their leys.  With Festulolium seed more readily available and with a weight of trials data behind them, now may be the time to move to these new varieties.

Article by Andrew Clune

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