Grass breeders continue to break new ground

A recent review of the grassland development trials carried out at  the Agri Food and Biosciences Institute in Loughgall, Co Armagh has confirmed that the genetic progress made, in terms of the new grass varieties developed during this period, works out at approximately 0.5 per  cent per annum.

“This means that, in simple terms, the genetic improvement secured in a decade is approximately five per cent, which is a highly significant figure,” added head of station David Johnston.

“These figures only reflect the potential of the differing grass varieties to produce dry matter: achieving this on-farm is an entirely different matter.”

He continued: “I am fully aware that farmers have cut back on the amount of fertiliser they apply annually. But the reality is, however, that modern grass varieties need a minimum level of fertility in the soil to allow them express their full growth potential. And this is an issue which the grass-based sectors must actively address moving forward.”

Johnston went on to point that significant numbers of dairy farmers had forgotten about the need to produce as much milk as possible from grazed grass and silage.

“I recently met up with a dairy analyst from England, who told me that total production costs per litre within his client base ranged from 10 pence to 28 pence. Obviously, those farmers committed to producing high quality forage were at the lower end of this spectrum, putting them in the best possible position to withstand the tremendous volatility that so characterises the dairy sector at the present time.

“I am also aware that there have been tremendous genetic advancements made by cattle and other livestock breeders over recent years. However, the good news is that this progress has been more than matched by plant breeders in terms of them developing new and improved grass varieties. The reality is that swards made up of modern grass varieties will produce the quantity and quality of forage required by modern dairy cows, beef cattle and sheep. The term rocket fuel comes immediately to mind in this regard.”

Johnston went on to point out that soil structure and fertility both play a crucial role in promoting grass growth.

“Improved drainage, in tandem with a commitment to regular liming, would have a tremendously beneficial impact in this regard.  I am aware that poor farm incomes over cent years have not allowed farmers to carry out as much soil improvement work s they would have liked. Hover, tis may change given the very upbeat prospects for farming at the present time.”