By Robert DaviesWales correspondent

COMMERCIAL SEED production of the first new variety to emerge from the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research”s restarted red clover breeding programme is under way.

 IGER trials indicate that AberRuby will outyield existing recommended varieties in the UK and have less of the oestrogens which prevent feeding of red clover to breeding sheep.

 Michael Abberton, head of legume breeding, says three other varieties with potentially higher yields are also in the pipeline. “The programme aims to improve grazing tolerance and production, particularly beyond the third year after sowing. We are also looking for enhanced pest and disease resistance.”

 When the work started the emphasis was to use the atmospheric nitrogen fixing ability of red clover to provide high protein forage for organic and low input farming systems. But now many conventional producers are interested in accessing easy to manage and more persistent clover varieties.

Dr Abberton also sees a bright future for AberPearl, a new, high yielding, small leaved white clover variety, which has high resistance to stem nematode. Pearl should prove extremely resistant under rotational or continuous sheep grazing.

He says that after 80 years breeders are still searching for genes to improve the seasonal growth curve, and drought and disease tolerance, of clover varieties and their compatibility with companion grasses. Recently they have also started focusing on the way nitrogen in clover is used in the rumen and how to reduce the risk of polluting products reaching watercourses.

bobdavies@agrinews.fsnet.co.uk