EUROPEAN-SEED.COM I EUROPEAN SEED I 27EUROPEAN-SEED.COM I EUROPEAN SEED I 27 For Eastern Europe a more continental climate prevails and moisture is often a limiting factor in addition to tough winters and high summer temperatures. Important traits include drought tolerance and high yields at the beginning of the season when moisture still allows for production. In Southern Europe the Mediterranean climate provides warm dry summers and humid mild winters. Drought tolerance and disease resistance are of major importance. In France rust resistance is therefore an important score on the national variety list. The choice of species may favour drought- resistant types such as tall fescue and cocksfoot to maintain production during the summer. Perennial ryegrass is less productive at temperatures above 25C which limits its use in hot areas. If the summer is very dry the choice of forage may shift to annual species to boost production in the winter and spring. Forage Breeding Accomplishments Because grass breeding is a time-consuming process varieties normally stay on the market for a relatively long time. For instance Romark an intermediate diploid perennial ryegrass variety on the Dutch market listed for the first time in 1995. In addition Tivoli is still a highly valued late tetraploid variety on the German list RSM since 1988. Normally the lifespan of a variety is five to 10 years. The speed of development of new varieties depends on breeding strategy and the number of genes involved in the trait to be improved. For example the development of rust resistance which is most likely controlled by few genes has been fast whereas more complex traits like dry matter yield have also improved consistently albeit at a much lower pace. While changes in agricultural management account for half of the annual gains in forage yield the remaining can be related to genetic gains. Sometimes trait development occurs in jumps. For example the perennial ryegrass Sputnik entered the Dutch list with an impressive yield increase of about five per cent. In addition many European breeding companies have also managed to make big improvements to variety persistence. However arguably the most important advances have been in grass quality. Better quality means better yields of milk and meat. Better quality also goes hand-in-hand with lower emissions of nitrogen. There is also evidence higher quality forage reduces methane emissions from grazing animals. T h e b r e e d i n g p r o g r a m m e a t Aberystwyth University was the first to recognise the importance of grass quality and how it affects animal performance. The high water soluble carbohydrate Aber varieties of forage ryegrass demonstrate the progress that has been made. Attention is now being given to other quality aspects such as lipid levels. BREEDING FOR THE FUTURE A typical grass breeding programme takes from 12 to 15 years from the beginning of the breeding cycle until the variety is on the market. It is highly challenging for any plant breeder to foresee what will happen in the future. It is quite clear that dry summers may become more common in many European regions and therefore drought tolerance is an area of major focus in many breeding programmes today. It is also possible insect damage will become a bigger problem in the future due to climate change. Recently DLF has started two new breeding projects which target these challenges one project focuses on developing varieties with better and longer roots and the other on developing endophytic fungi to protect the roots from damaging insects. Deep Root Selection With the hypothesis that drought tolerance is correlated with rooting depth four Danish breeding companies collaborated with three Danish universities to create a facility where plants can be selected for deep rooting while simultaneously undergoing thorough scientific investigations. The project called RadiMax aims to develop drought-tolerant crops in wheat barley potato and grasses as well as create genomic models that will allow breeders to predict rooting ability in new material solely based on a DNA test. Endophyte Solutions Endophytic fungi can be found in most cool- season grasses throughout Europe. Ryegrass meadow fescue and tall fescue receive sugars in exchange for alkaloids which protect the grass from insects. However the natural endophytes in ryegrass only protect the base of the plant and not the roots. DLF is currently working on developing endophyte solutions which will protect both the top and the roots of the plant from insect attacks. NIR and Ryegrass Breeding In recent years the development of technologies to measure quality parameters online have improved considerably with the use of near-infrared reflectance NIR spectroscopy. When an infrared light beam is reflected from a substance the wavelengths can be used to estimate the content of various components. NIR is used in grass breeding for online measurements of moisture content on grass harvesters. Companies have extended the use of NIR to other quality parameters such as digestibility content of water soluble carbohydrates and protein as well as the quality of fibre fractions. Each year 150000 to 200000 plot scans are collected with a fleet of grass harvesters all mounted with NIR scanners. Editors Notes DLF is a global market leader in the grass seed industry running a worldwide breeding network as well as production and sales of clover and grass seed. It develops locally adapted forage and turf products for a wide range of climates and soils as well as specialty products for specific applications. With group companies based throughout the British Isles and a strong network of business interests worldwide Germinal is involved in the agricultural and amenity sectors delivering quality and customer service from breeding and assessment through to the production and marketing of seed. DSV focuses on breeding production advisory services and sales with the main emphasis on turf and forage grasses oilseed rape maize cereal crops and cover crops making it a one-stop shop. DSV has various seed breeding and testing stations plus a number of testing sites in Germany and abroad staffed by a 600-strong workforce. For more than 100 years the Royal Barenbrug Group has been a family-owned business the core activities of which are plant breeding grass seed production and the international marketing of seed for turf and forage grasses and legumes. Variety trials of ryegrass. Photo DSV Drought tolerance is an area of focus for breeding programmes as dry summers may become more common in many European regions. Photo shows the grass-covered tram tracks in Angers France. Photo DLF ONLINE EXCLUSIVE Visit European-Seed.com to read more about the perennial ryegrass breeding process from DSVs perspective.