28 February 1997

Link-up needed to determine targets for grass breeding

Grass breedings future came under close scrutiny last week at the British Grassland Societys Seeds of Progress conference in Nottingham. Emma Penny reports

PLANT breeders should link up with animal nutritionists to identify grass breeding selection targets for the next millennium.

According to Mike Camlin of the DANI plant breeding station at Crossnacreevy, Belfast, little progress has been made on grazing or forage utilisation for ruminants.

"It is a serious omission that we cannot tell livestock farmers if 100kg of grass from a new sward of Moy is any better in terms of animal output, or even herbage intake, than 100kg from a 50-year-old sward of Aberystwyth S24."

It was not going to be enough to continue to select and recommend varieties largely on the basis of yield and persistence, he stressed.

"The time is fast approaching when we must try to seek a new route towards our goal of improved livestock production from grass. Selection on yield and persistence must be matched with increased efforts to determine nutritive value of varieties."

But the cost of comparing varieties in terms of output was, and always would be, prohibitive because of the large experimental errors involved, he said. But these trials had proved that digestibility or D-value is a reasonable predictor of animal intake, and could be used as a guide in variety testing.

"We need to more objectively define some of the attributes of the grass plant such as cell wall lignification or carbohydrate and protein balance, which can influence nutritive value of grass and silage in ruminants," said Dr Camlin.

Mike Camblin of the DANI plant breeding station in Belfast claims that little progress has been made on grazing or forage use for ruminants.