Breeders are looking to develop new grass hybrids that have the added bonus of reducing runoff, thereby helping cut the risk of flooding.
Scientists at IBERS Aberystwyth University found in a previous project that runoff was 51% lower with ryegrass/fescue (festulolium) hybrids.
“We found that fescue roots died back at depth making the soil more porous and this was the main reason for the reduced runoff,” said Mike Humphreys of Aberystwyth University.
The fescues used in the hybrids originate from drier parts of the world, southern Europe and North Africa, hence the deeper rooting habitat.
The £2.5m project, led by Dr Humphreys, aims to develop new high yielding hybrids over the next five years that give high yields and performance, while also improving rainfall capture of soil.
A key part of the project is the latest scanning technology that allows detailed root measurements.
“Up to now studying roots meant killing the plant, but we can now monitor them as they grow,” explained Paul Billins, agriculture director at Germinal Seeds, one of the industrial partners.
Plants are grown in pipes in a special glasshouse at the University’s National Plant Phenomics Centre.
“We can image them to gain a complete picture of the roots and go back in six or 12 months and scan again to see the changes,” said Dr Humphreys.
Promising hybrids will go forward to small plot trials and then to whole farm scale trials. Eventually, Dr Humphreys hopes to have eight farms covering different livestock systems covering poultry, sheep, beef and dairy.
The Sureroot project is a collaboration between Aberystwyth University, Rothamsted Research, Germinal Seeds, Waitrose and a number of other industry partners through the BBSRC link scheme.
See all of the coverage from Grassland and Muck 2014