Breeders are making progress in developing red clover varieties that are resistant to its two key enemies.
Stem nematode and sclerotinia are a real problem for farmers looking to grow red clover in a rotation, explained research scientist Matthew Lowe, at IBERS Aberystwyth University at Grassland and Muck 2014.
“They are the main reason why many farmers stopped growing red clover in a rotation, as levels built up.”
Sclerotinia is a particular problem in wet springs, like this year, with a heightened risk of outbreaks.
“It is costly as it rapidly wipes out clover and it then takes a seven to 10-year gap before red clover can be grown again,” he said.
On top of this, the disease can easily spread from infected fields to clean fields.
To tackle this constrain on the wider growing of this protein crop, the university is looking to develop resistant varieties in a project with Germinal Seeds and NIAB TAG, co-funded by the Technology Strategy Board.
“We are looking to identify and develop markers to allow selection, and then this will feed into the red clover breeding programme.”
Breeder Athole Marshall added: “We are now on our third round of selection for stem nematode resistance following a second round in which the proportion of resistant plants increased from about 15% up to 40%.
“We are one generation behind with the sclerotinia resistant population, but we expect it to follow a similar trend,” he said.
Read more: See all the news from Grassland & Muck 2014