Producers should place as much emphasis on improving grass genetics as they do on animal selection, according to Liz Genever, EBLEX beef and sheep scientist.
“To reap the benefits of good-quality leys, producers should consult the Recommended Grass and Clover List (RGCL) when selecting varieties,” she says.
Formally known as the NIAB List, the RGCL is a result of independent, in-depth trials by NIAB.
It is essential farmers continue to use the list, or they will lose it, stresses independent consultant Charlie Morgan. “If this is the case, producers will not be able to guarantee purchase of reliable grass varieties.”
We need farmers to recognise the list’s value, says Dr Genever. “The fact only 10% of varieties put forward make it onto the list acts as a filter for substandard varieties.”
The guide provies data on yields and quality, under-grazing and cutting conditions. And the 2010 list will also include information on disease resistance and ground cover and practical advice on selection and management.
“Selection through NIAB has already seen significant improvements in grass digestibility and clover persistency which has a knock-on effect on liveweight gain and milk yield improvements,” she says.
Using varieties from the recommended list ensures producers are getting the best of the best, says Tim Ball, grass breeder for Eurograss.
“The whole process starting with the first cross to getting a variety on the NIAB list takes a minimum of twelve years trial work.”THE SELECTION PROCESS
And before a variety is even considered for NIAB trials, it undergoes a series of in-depth assessments.
The best plants of each variety are selected, with substandard plants gradually being eliminated, says Mr Ball. “We score grasses for yield, regrowth, heading and disease resistance and also look at how they grow and timing of ear emergence.” Clovers undergo a similar process.
“We trial about 200 perennial ryegrasses a year and of these I enter about three into NIAB trials which last a further five years – getting on the NIAB list is a high hurdle.”NEW CONSIDERATIONS
Although the recommended list is a key focus for selecting varieties, breeders are also choosing characteristics not tested by NIAB, says Michael Abberton, head of plant breeding at Aberystwyth University.
“The focus for the future is food security and climate change, so emphasis is on varieties that will produce more with less fertiliser and contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” Efficient nitrogen and phosphate use is also key, with the first varieties selected for these traits entering national trials in the next three years, says Dr Abberton.
“New research is also looking into selecting grasses rich in linolenic acid, to increase energy intakes and improve the level of healthier fatty acids into meat and milk, says Nigel Scollan, University of Aberystwyth.