New techniques, including genetic manipulation, are slashing plant breeding timetables meaning new grass varieties can be available in as little as one-and-a-half years.

Traditional breeding programmes can take 15 years to produce varieties, but scientific advances mean progress can now be made at up to 10 times that previously possible.

And despite consumer concerns, Mogens Toft Jensen – head of marketing and product management at DLF-Trifolium – believes that using these new techniques is vital.

“We must meet customers’ demands for plants that perform under extreme conditions, such as drought and vast temperature variations.”

At DLF-Trifolium’s Plant Breeding Centre in Denmark, exciting developments in genetic breeding are taking place, says Klaus Nielson, head of research.

“We are now close to producing a reproductive stemless, non-flowering grass variety.”

Red fescue

Engo Lenk, biogenetic scientist at the centre, says using sophisticated biotechnology DLF-Trifolium has been developing a red fescue that is stemless and non-flowering year on year.

Principles for breeding the stemless red fescue could be used for more typical grazing species.

“This not only prevents the transfer of transgenes from genetically modified plants to traditional species, but provides nutrient rich, palatable forage varieties for farmers.”

Before the process is complete, a way to induce flowering to breed from stemless, non-flowering varieties has to be found, Mr Lenk says.

“We need to either remove the repressor or reactivate the dormant flowering gene and supply this to the seed growers.”

But genetic modification is not the only tool in DLF-Trifolium’s armoury, says plant breeder Morten Greve. Analytical methods, marker-based breeding and screening play a considerable role in breeding programmes.

A large number of existing varieties, including the popular Festulolium, are already available through suppliers thanks to these more traditional methods.

The company’s first genetically modified product – fodder beet variety Simplex – has been proven resistant to the environmentally mild pesticide glyphosate (RoundUp).

Developed in conjunction with Danisco and Monsanto, Simplex has obvious advantages for both farmers and the environment, such as lower pesticide application and increased ecological sensitivity.

emily.padfield@rbi.co.uk